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.