Mayor refutes report that he schemed against council colleagues

Hindman, reacting to blog, says would never participate in discussion about removing City Council members.
Thursday, January 29, 2009 | 10:32 p.m. CST; updated 11:41 p.m. CST, Thursday, January 29, 2009

COLUMBIA — Mayor Darwin Hindman denied during a City Council work session Thursday night that he had participated in a discussion of strategies for removing “activist” members of the council during a meeting of former mayors, the present and past city managers and other influential citizens at the Country Club of Missouri about a week ago.

Hindman was responding to a Thursday morning report by “Columbia Heartbeat” blogger Mike Martin concerning “an alleged plan to replace, block, or otherwise undermine so-called City Council ‘activists.’” Hindman said he “would never, under any circumstances, participate” in such behind-the-scenes machinations.

Hindman also flatly denied knowledge of any discussion concerning the removal of council members.

"I did not hear any such conversations. I don't think any such conversation took place," Hindman said at the work session.

"I think we've got a good council," Hindman said. He added that "it just absolutely is not true" that City Manager Bill Watkins participated in the reported discussion. The council was scheduled to continue its annual evaluation of  Watkins’ performance during a closed session on Thursday night.

Martin’s “Heartbeat” report, delivered by e-mail through a popular Yahoo! group, said public word of the Jan. 22 country club gathering surfaced at a meeting of the Downtown Leadership Council on Tuesday, when an unnamed leadership council member complained about the earlier discussion. Martin’s post pegged Bob Roper of Columbia, as the man who sparked the talk at the country club during an accompanying discussion about the merits of paying council members.

Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala, one of the "activist" members mentioned in Martin's post, thanked the mayor for addressing the issue Thursday night.

"I don't take any of this personally," Skala said. "I take the mayor at his word."

First Ward Councilman Paul Sturtz, Fourth Ward Councilman Jerry Wade and Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe, the other council members Martin reported had been named as "activists," were also present at the work session.

Hoppe said she did not mind the "activist" label, saying "activist is people doing their job."

Hoppe said she thought the general public was pleased with her council activities. "They don't want a rubber stamp," she said.

Wade, too, took the label in stride. "I'm not sure what they mean, but I've been an activist all my life," he said. "Everyone who runs for council is an activist, by definition."

Hindman joked that he even likes to think of himself as an activist.

 Hindman said the country club meeting, which included all living former mayors of Columbia, was just a reunion and not a "cabal" setting city policy behind the scenes. The mayor said that, with so many city politicians in one place, it was natural that the discussion turned to city affairs, but he emphasized that the group set no policy agendas.

Former Mayor Clyde Wilson, who attended the meeting at the country club, said that neither Hindman nor Watkins talked about removing council members.

"I don't think Watkins said anything at all that entire meeting," Wilson said. "My impression was that Roper was the presenter and that he seemed to indicate that what he wanted to have was a less action-oriented City Council than the one we have now. I don't know that anybody else said that."

Hindman said that the assembled luminaries at the country club informally discussed paying council members a regular salary, a policy question that has been debated for years in Columbia. Although voters have rejected the idea of paying council representatives, the idea has gained steam with existing representatives and with candidates in recent years.

Wilson said "it was hard to tell" whether those at the country club meeting reached a consensus other than that the council should receive some sort of compensation.

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Ray Shapiro January 30, 2009 | 1:00 a.m.

I am more inclined to believe Mayor Hindman than believe that Bill Watkins was pretending to be a mime all evening, as he sat with his puppet master, Ray Beck.
The article also does not address the repotedly missing written reports and an audio portion of missing discussions.
(From the blog): I made the request after a source close to City Hall expressed concern that portions of the DLC meeting, which is open to the public, hadn't been recorded. "It wouldn't surprise me if about 7-10 minutes of that meeting is missing," the source explained.

Roughly an hour later, Clemons telephoned to say the tape was ready. On arriving at the City Manager's office in the Daniel Boone City Hall meeting, I met Clemons in the lobby and she set me up in a private conference room. "I'm sorry, this is a really old machine," she said, proceeding to turn on a cassette tape recorder. The tape started playing about halfway into the meeting, which I had also attended.

But after about a minute, during which Columbia Housing Authority director Phil Steinhaus discussed his dismay with a structure at Quinton's Bar that overhangs a sidewalk along Ninth Street, the tape suddenly stopped. The conversation about the scheme to remove council members was indeed missing.
Our council members are being such good sports about all this and should all be commended.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr January 30, 2009 | 3:28 a.m.

Nice back peddling on the Mayor's part but the cat is out of the bag as they say.

Gratz to the Council Members to but we all know this is not over by far.

Why was a portion of that tape missing?

(Report Comment)
Ayn Rand January 30, 2009 | 6:35 a.m.

Hindman, et al aren't the only ones whose reputations and careers are riding on whether these allegations turn out to be true. If they are, the Missourian and Tribune also take another hit because even more people will start looking to Columbia Heartbeat for what's really happening in Columbia. A potentially huge feather in Mike's cap.

(Report Comment)
Michael Scott January 30, 2009 | 7:13 a.m.

This is an interesting tactic by Mike Martin and the anti-growth members of our community. Obviously worried about the upcoming council elections and know that Columbian's want more focus on public safety, job creation and economic development, which they have absolutely no clue about!

(Report Comment)
Mike Martin January 30, 2009 | 8:19 a.m.

As former mayor Clyde Wilson presented it to me, the Bob-Roper-led discussion largely became what we call in this biz a garden variety politial targeting meetup -- where you target, politically, those in public office you want to replace via the electoral process -- a perfectly acceptable meeting that becomes an item of public interest when it is attended by a sitting mayor and sitting city manager.

Council pay was part of a three-item "package" of incentives and disincentives, designed to dissuade or undermine present and future "activist" council members and encourage more pro-business members. That package allegedly included:

1) Council pay, to encourage more business people to run
2) Full mayoral veto power (sitting or new mayor could veto council activists)
3) Adding two at-large seats, widely viewed as a way to discourage grassroots folks without the financial support from running

Apparently no one is denying that the mayor and city manager attended, but there is dispute about the word "activist" being used, which it allegedly was several times. Mayor Hindman was also alleged to have participated in the discussion.

A previous attempt to remove Karl Skala from a Chamber of Commerce committee to which he belonged, which is all in writing and which the Heart Beat reported, lends credence to these allegations. Bob Roper co-chairs that Chamber committee.

Members of the public who have expressed concerns -- and they are many -- are befuddled by two things: Why didn't the mayor and city manager politely excuse themselves? And why were no council members invited, as this was supposedly a discussion about their pay?

I stand by the story and strongly believe that these sorts of meetings, discussions, and removal attempts of public officials -- which is not at all in dispute at the Chamber of Commerce -- are of the utmost public interest.

-- Mike Martin

(Report Comment)
Mike Martin January 30, 2009 | 8:31 a.m.

I should also note that Bob Roper denied ever using the word "activist" to describe council members and that he likes and respects Karl Skala and Karl Skala's opinions.

We will also later be running a letter from assistant city manager Tony St. Romaine, who attended the Downtown Leadership Council meeting at which this was first discussed.

The Columbia Heart Beat and these stories are online at:

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr January 30, 2009 | 10:23 a.m.

Great job n reporting Mike and keep up the great work!

This is a total outrage and deserves deeper investigation into and to expose this for what it really is. The old school good ole boy elitists club making a power play to keep control of this city.

(Report Comment)
Ed Ricciotti January 30, 2009 | 12:08 p.m.

I believe Columbians care about a more sustainable community. Not only environmentally, but economically as well. A decade of sprawl has not put this city in any better economic shape. Money that went to subsidize development could of went to hiring more police and other programs to help at risk children. It is great to say that you are for job creation, but if we don't have a city that can sustain them, we end up with a bunch of empty store fronts. These "activist" council people just have the vision to see the consequences of our actions will have on the future. They truly represent all Columbians.

Some of the Commerce members don't like that the gravy train has come to a halt and the council wasn't the rubber stamp they were used to.

(Report Comment)
Ayn Rand January 30, 2009 | 12:26 p.m.

It's admirable to argue against sprawl, but most home buyers continue to vote for it by an overwhelming majority. Until the council and developers hear citizens clamoring for density and mixed use, they're going to continue to focus on what the public wants.

(Report Comment)
I Love Columbia January 30, 2009 | 12:39 p.m.

I don't think the issue is that people don't want density and mixed use. We need that more than ever these days. The issue is the expense involved in building it. It's like doing things 'green' - people love the idea but few are willing to buck up and pay for it.

It's one thing to talk about building lofts in downtown St. Louis or Kansas City but another entirely to be looking at doing that in Columbia. At the end of the day, I don't see how they can do that and make it work while competing with other housing options.

I will say though that if they could pull it off, that would be great for Columbia. It would be nice to see some life breathed back into downtown, especially with today's economic outlook. I'm really worried about downtown with all the business closings.

(Report Comment)
Ayn Rand January 30, 2009 | 12:54 p.m.

Based on what I've seen and heard, most people don't want density and mixed use. Just look at the fuss over the medical facility on Old 63 by KFRU and the Country Club. The neighbors were upset about that opening the door for more commercial development. Same thing with the RSI store and other commercial properties that were supposed to go in -- still are, actually -- at the corner of Woodridge and I-70 Drive SE. Too much traffic! Too many lights! Too much noise! Not in my backyard! The same complaints, over and over and over.

People might say they like the idea of walking to a neighborhood grocery store. But propose putting one in their neighborhood, and watch the fireworks begin.

As for density, just go on an Parade of Homes-type tour, or watch House Hunters, and you'll often hear: "I don't like that the houses are so close together. I don't want my neighbor to see in my window."

(Report Comment)
Mike Martin January 30, 2009 | 4:36 p.m.

Feel free to click and read the letters I've posted on the Columbia Heart Beat that describe a month-long effort to remove Councilman Skala from the Chamber of Commerce government affairs committee. We referenced these letters in the story this article is about.

(Report Comment)

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