Five Ideas: Are furloughs the solution the UM budget is seeking?

Saturday, February 7, 2009 | 10:00 a.m. CST

AAUP calls Forsee's plan 'backdoor salary cuts'

On Tuesday, University of Missouri System President Gary Forsee sent a memo to university faculty and staff about his plan to request approval from the Board of Curators for the authority to require unpaid leave "if necessary" and for employees to begin paying into their retirement plans. He cited the recession as the main reason for “reevaluating” the university's expenses.

The plan, approved Friday by the curators, gave Forsee authority to impose furloughs with board consultation. It also requires benefit-eligible employees to make contributions based on their level of salary, beginning at 1 percent for a salary of up to $50,000, and 2 percent on any salary earned over $50,000.

A group of MU professors called this plan a “backdoor salary cut” in a letter in response to Forsee.

Unpaid leave, or furloughs, is being required by universities throughout the nation as a more compassionate alternative to layoffs, but the group objected that faculty had not been involved in discussions leading up to the proposal.

“Decisions that impact the faculty should be tempered through discussion with them, especially given the impact of policy changes on faculty and staff morale,” said the letter, written by the executive committee of the MU chapter of the American Association of University Professors.

Q: Are the changes the best way for the university to manage a growing budget deficit? Should the faculty have been more involved in the process?

Spot zoning change gives mortuary a home

A mortuary will take the place of a Jehovah's Witnesses congregation hall in a north Columbia neighborhood, after the City Council approved a zoning change in Monday's meeting.

The property changed to single-use commercial, which means even if H. T. May and Son Funeral Home sells the mortuary, it can't be used for any other kind of business without council approval.

Council members and supporters of the zoning change said it was a “win-win situation” for the neighbors of the property, citing a decrease in traffic.

Also, Mary Ratliff, president of the local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said having a black-owned funeral home is needed for Columbia's black community.

Some neighbors did not agree, however. One man who spoke at Monday's meeting said he was against the principle of spot zoning.

“It will be easier for another kind of business to get the zoning changed (to multi-use) in the future,” said John Payne, who owns rental property near the site. "It could be a massage parlor or an X-rated book store later. Who knows how it could end up?”

Q: Did the City Council make the right decision to change the zoning in a residential area?

Columbia tries to stem tide of budget deficit

At the City Council meeting Monday night, a decision was made not to participate in the state's "Show-Me Green Sales Tax Holiday" to keep from losing revenue in the economic downturn.

Council members also struck down a resolution to allow consumers to buy energy-efficient appliances without paying sales tax.

Every city employee is eligible for a performance-based raise of up to 3 percent annually. Columbia, however, is expecting major budget deficits at the end of this fiscal year.

City Finance Director Lori Fleming said if the current trend continues, the city's general fund will fall short $600,000 to $900,000. Similar deficits would hit transportation, capital improvement and park sales tax revenue.

Officials feared participation in the tax holiday would push the city further into the red, so council members voted unanimously against it.

"Playing with tax holidays is simply bad policy," Fourth Ward Councilman Jerry Wade said.

Mayor Darwin Hindman joined the chorus of disapproval, calling the tax holiday an "unfunded mandate" from the legislature while encouraging the city to boost energy-efficient appliance usage through other means.

Q: Can the city keep from sliding into a deficit?

Columbia Public Schools releases names of superintendent finalists

The Columbia School Board has selected Skip Deming and Chris Belcher as the two finalists for the superintendent position.

The public will have the opportunity to meet Deming from 5 to 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at West Junior High School. Belcher will meet the public from 5 to 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Paxton Keeley Elementary School.

Columbia Public Schools has extended the hiring process after originally projecting that finalists would be picked by Jan. 30, then by Feb. 1. The board decided to extend the deadline to complete an additional interview Thursday.

Former superintendent Phyllis Chase retired from her position of five years in August, with former superintendent Jim Ritter — whom Chase took over for in 2003 — appointed interim superintendent. In a previous Missourian report, board officials said they would like to hire the new superintendent by July 1.

Q: Has the public been sufficiently involved in the selection process?

Columbia police acknowledge gang-related activity in Columbia

After an announcement Thursday, Interim Police Chief Tom Dresner said the  Columbia Police Department is no longer doing a "semantic dance" around the question of gangs.

It was the first time the Police Department publicly acknowledged a gang presence in Columbia, and it came during an announcement of federal indictments against 16 people on drug- and gun-related charges. Fourteen are from Columbia, and all are suspected members of the alleged Cut Throat gang in Columbia, police said.

"The days of saying there are no gangs in Columbia are over," Dresner said.

The indictments were the culmination of an 18-month investigation by Columbia police, the FBI, the Boone County Prosecutor's Office, the Boone County Sheriff's Department, the Missouri State Highway Patrol Crime Lab and the Missouri Department of Corrections.

Traditionally, the Police Department has not attached the word "gang" to suspects of violent crimes.

"Technically, some of those groups could be considered gangs," former Police Chief Randy Boehm said in a November 2007 Missourian report, referring to groups of young men the Police Department partly blamed for the increase in violent crime from 2006 to 2007. "We do have groups of really loosely organized individuals that commit crimes together."

Q: Was it right for the Police Department to wait before acknowledging a gang presence in Columbia?

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