Attorney Sarah Read to run for Fourth Ward seat

Tuesday, October 27, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 12:04 p.m. CDT, Friday, March 26, 2010
Sarah Read laughs with other members of the First Christian Church planning committee as they debate about the church's meeting room rental rates and schedule. Read is involved with several other planning committees across the city to help improve quality of life in Columbia.

COLUMBIA — Columbia attorney Sarah Read has confirmed that she is running for the Fourth Ward City Council seat that Jerry Wade will leave vacant as he runs for mayor.

Read said she is running because she believes the council needs “fewer factions and more focus.”

She said she has “a lot of experience and skills” that she believes would be an asset to “strengthen the way our government works."

Read has lived in Columbia since 1996.  She owns a law practice and is a co-owner and president of The Communications Center Inc., a business that provides communications training and coaching.

She previously worked as a partner and energy attorney at Sidley Austin LLP in Chicago. She also worked recently as a consultant for the Columbia Vision Commission.

Read said her work as a “mediator, arbitrator and facilitator” would be useful to the City Council.

“We need to go forward together as a community,” she said.

The city's Fourth Ward encompasses an area in southwest Columbia bounded by the MKT Trail, Providence Road and West Broadway.

The filing period for council candidates began Friday and ends in late January. The city charter dictates that those interested in running for mayor must collect between 100 and 150 signatures from registered voters in Columbia and submit their petition to the city clerk for validation. Those who want to run for ward seats must collect at least 50 signatures from registered voters within their wards.

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Dan Goldstein October 27, 2009 | 10:13 a.m.

My name is Dan Goldstein and I am the current Chairperson of the Columbia Visioning Commission. I would request that you correct one thing in the article: “Attorney Sarah Read to run for Fourth Ward seat”. The sentence " She also worked recently as a consultant for the Columbia Vision Commission" is incorrect. Mrs. Read was hired by the city managers office as a consultant. In this capacity she held both open meetings, and private meetings, from which she produced a report on what she felt should be implemented from the Imagine Columbias Future: City of Columbia Vision and Action Plan. The Columbia Vision Commission had no input in Mrs. Reads report. We did attempt to discuss this report with her and requested that she share her methodologies used to decide what visioning items should be implemented over others. We never felt that she was able to explain her methodologies to us. We also requested a full listing of all meetings she had with citizens that were used as input for her report. Our meeting became contentious when Mrs. Read explained that she could not share with us the names of some of the people she met with, or the subjects discussed, because they had asked her to keep their meetings secret. Mrs. Read has a different understanding of open public processes than I do. Mrs. Read did finally provide the Columbia Visioning Commission with information and notes on the meetings that she felt could be shared with us. These were interesting and much appreciated. I do not know what meetings where not shared with the Columbia Visioning Commission.

(Report Comment)
Mike Martin October 27, 2009 | 11:08 a.m.

More and more, Sarah Read strikes me as the consummate insider.

It seems like every time I open a newspaper, I'm reading about Read getting or seeking a new contract from a public agency, usually through her firm, The Communications Center, Inc.

But wait: Wasn't she just working for that public agency in a related volunteer service capacity?

She has a tendency to profit -- in real dollars -- from her volunteer, community service activities, which concerns me when the ultimate volunteer community service project comes along -- the Columbia City Council.

More about what I mean here:

(Report Comment)
Dave Overfelt October 27, 2009 | 11:27 a.m.

This comment is from Dave Overfelt, an associate at The Communications Center and a PhD Candidate in Sociology at MU. I was present at the meetings Dan speaks of and have a different impression; it is correct however that our consulting contract was in fact with the city. We were not a consultant for the Vision Commission.

Some background might be useful: Dan, Sarah, and I were all on the Vision Committee which voted unanimously for the "Supplement to Chapter 5" that is in the front of the vision report and provided for the Implementation Report. You can find the recommendations made by the Vision Committee at the beginning of the final vision report at this link: If you look at the Implementation Report you can see it track these recommendations.

As a sociologist, I am quite familiar with qualitative research methods and our methodology was quite standard. We certainly had both private and public meetings. The purpose of the private meetings was to allow people to speak freely on the difficult issues that face the city right now. We also used surveys and other opportunities to comment. The confidentiality offered for the security and safety of respondents is standard practice. The purpose of the public meetings was to gather comments on the sorts of recommendations we were making. How we were going about this was from the start public on the web, discussed at public forums, and fully documented in Appendix D of the Implementation Report. Members of the Vision Commission were specifically invited to contact us and several in fact did. If you would like to check on our public comment and outreach, take a look at Appendix D in the Implementation Report. You can find it on this blog we have been working on:

Finally, the meetings with the Vision Commission are documented in minutes. We did defend our work in these meetings when challenged. We also offered to meet further with the Commission but were never asked to actually review the final draft report with them.

(Report Comment)
Dave Overfelt October 27, 2009 | 11:35 a.m.

Having read Mike Martin's comment, I would like to note that it is incorrect and uninformed.

(Report Comment)
Lise Saffran October 27, 2009 | 12:38 p.m.

Columbia is lucky to have a great number of people who are passionate about our city's future--and though there may be disagreements about process,style and sometimes goals, it strikes me as counterproductive to make baseless accusations about the motives of people who put themselves forward to do the hard work. Sarah Read put her considerable expertise to work--for free--for Into the Blue, a project I started that was committed to raising funds for Democratic infrastructure in Missouri. She has taken on a huge number of volunteer activities in the years I have known her and I have never known her to exhibit anything but integrity and sincere commitment. I think it is plain wrong to suggest that because she donates a tremendous amount of her skills and time but not ALL of her skills and time, she is somehow unethical. If you often open the paper and read about her involvement in Parents for Public Schools, or visioning, or one of her many, many other activities, perhaps the best explanation is that she is one of those citizens who goes above and beyond what most of us are willing to do for our community. And perhaps it is precisely those kind of people that serve us well on our city council. Sarah has my support.

(Report Comment)
Mike Martin October 27, 2009 | 5:22 p.m.

@Dave Overfelt:

To address your concerns that I'm "uninformed," I'm drawing from public sources about a public election to public office.

I don't think it's unfair to label some of Sarah's recent contracts with both the city and school board as "insider deals," hence the term "consummate insider."

In the case of the Visioning Committee, Sarah was a long-time member of that committee and then got the visioning implementation consultant contract with
the city. I have not seen a dollar figure listed for that contract, but I have to figure it was substantial.

List of Columbia Visioning Committee members, including Sarah Read and The Communications Center:

"In April 2008, Sarah Read, president of The Communications Center Inc., was contracted to serve as the city's visioning implementation consultant."

Additionally, the 'Imagine Columbia's Future' Visioning program Sarah and your team helped implement was being pitched as a template for a $9,500.00 2-day "weekend community dialogue session" for Get-About Columbia:

This article goes on to say, "Should the council accept the proposal, the city would contract with Communications Center Inc., a Columbia firm co-owned by Sarah Read."

Finally, I don't think it's unfair to question the timing or wisdom of charging the school district roughly $600.00/hour for a two-hour workshop on "how to become better listeners," especially given Sarah's long-time connections with the district and knowing what she must know about their well-publicized budget ills.

"Sarah Read is president of Columbia Parents for Public Schools, and a member of the board of the Columbia Public Schools Foundation..."

"What remains on the agenda is a two-hour team-building activity led by Sarah Read, president of Communication Center Inc. Board members aren’t sure what the exercise will include, but some say it could be the starting point for a stronger board of education.

"The board has been strained this year because of controversies such as the selection of a high school site, the spend-down of reserves and especially the voters’ rejection of a 54-cent tax levy hike in April."

"Sarah Read, president of Communication Center Inc., led the Columbia school board through several activities designed to teach them how to dissect dialogue and become better listeners. The program cost the district $1,200."

(Report Comment)
Mary Bryant October 27, 2009 | 5:34 p.m.

Why would anyone want to run for a city council seat when regardless of their best efforts their motives become suspect and their character is questioned? Sarah Read cares about her community and is willing to offer her experience and skill. Let's hold off on the abuse until she has a chance to make her platform known and we in the fourth ward get to know her. We just might be proud to have her as our council representative.

(Report Comment)
Mike Martin October 27, 2009 | 8:48 p.m.

@Mary Bryant:

You're mis-characterizing these questions and statements as "abuse." Far from it. Whenever you run for public office, your motives, character -- heck, everything about you will be questioned. Hopefully, quite thoroughly.

As a 4th Ward constituent, it burns me to know that our cash-strapped school district hired a $600/hr consultant -- particularly a consultant, Mrs. Read, who should have known better -- right after the big levy failure to help the school board, well -- do what exactly? One of the articles I quoted said board members didn't even know themselves!

In the larger picture, I know a lot of other people are sick and tired of these sweetheart insider deals. The $2 million or more that Vangel and Associates trotted off with from the Get-About funds really steams me, so it's not just Sarah Read.

Elected officials make critical decisions that impact all of our lives, and no one should be discouraged from asking hard questions about them. I ask these questions because I don't want to be worried that the officials I'm electing are looking down the road at the deals they'll be making after they leave office, or while they're in office.

I don't think that sounds abusive. I think it sounds smart.

(Report Comment)
Tim Dance October 27, 2009 | 10:16 p.m.

Mr. Overfelt,

When dealing with what direction this city is to go, you do not have the luxury of having "secret" meetings. I know it goes against your sociological methodology, but sunshine laws were created for a reason. All of those visioning meetings are of public record. Every one of them. To deny access invites suspicion and criticism. Read, though very involved in her community, sounds like she is more beholden to the status quo of the city machine, then an agent of change and real vision. We need someone who believes there should be more light shined on the dysfunctional city body politic, not less.

(Report Comment)
Janice Friesen October 29, 2009 | 6:09 a.m.

Sarah Read has spent many, many volunteer hours and given free space to the Partners for Public Schools. I think it is because she really cares about what happens in Columbia.

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro March 12, 2010 | 6:10 p.m.

Why was it so hard to find these comments about Ms. Read?

(Report Comment)

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