Kespohl doubts sending Landmark e-mail

Message has become an issue in Third Ward Columbia City Council contest.
Sunday, February 21, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CST; updated 12:16 a.m. CST, Sunday, February 21, 2010

COLUMBIA — The question of whether Third Ward City Council candidate Gary Kespohl sent an e-mail to council members in May 2008 outlining concerns about development on and near the site of Landmark Hospital has lingered since incumbent Councilman Karl Skala read the message at a Feb. 11 forum.

The question is important because Kespohl has said Skala's vote against the Landmark rezoning is one of the main reasons he's running for the council a second time. Skala's vote could have cost the city important jobs, Kespohl has said.

Skala, who is seeking his second three-year term on the council, cast one of two votes against the Landmark rezoning, saying he was representing the opinion of constituents.

During the forum, hosted by the Columbia Chamber of Commerce, chamber board member Larry Moore asked Skala why he voted against the rezoning, and he asked Kespohl how he would have voted.

Skala responded first. "Interestingly, I think I know how Mr. Kespohl would have voted because he sent me an e-mail in May of 2008."

Skala began to read an excerpt of the e-mail. "I am very concerned about future development on these tracts of land because of the conditions under which they are sold," he read.

"Karl, I don't remember an e-mail like that," Kespohl said after Skala finished reading the excerpt. "Matter of fact, I didn't send it," he said. (Video of the forum is available here. The exchange occurs at about 10 minutes and 30 seconds.)

The sender's address on the e-mail Skala read is, which Kespohl later confirmed is his e-mail address. It was forwarded to the entire council and is signed "Gary Kespohl." Skala's version of the e-mail says it was sent at 1:39:51 p.m. on May 5, 2008, the same day the council met and voted 5-2 in favor of the Landmark rezoning.

Kespohl said immediately after the forum that he didn't know where the e-mail came from. On Monday, he said he was fairly certain he did not write the e-mail. He also said it is important to note that the message never explicitly told Skala or the other council members how to vote on the issue.

In the e-mail, the writer mentions that he had twice had an interest in property in the area: once as the site of a new home and once as the potential site for a new Lutheran school. Both times, the writer was told the land would be sold only if Crawford Construction Co. were allowed to do the building, the message says.

“I now understand that the northern tract is to be sold from the McAlester Trust to Elizabeth and Mark Crawford,” the writer said. The message later adds: “I have asked Elizabeth Crawford directly to consider some sort of promise to not allow more commercial development on the tracts and she has refused. I am very concerned."

Kespohl said that he had never spoken to Elizabeth Crawford before the council’s Landmark vote. Attempts to reach Crawford were unsuccessful.

Kespohl and several members of the Country Club Estates Neighborhood Association attended the meeting when the council voted on the hospital rezoning. According to the minutes for the May 5 council meeting, several members spoke to the council. Association President Jim Downey was among them.

Downey told the council that 48 members met and discussed the Landmark Hospital and that 42 members voted against construction of the hospital. Only four supported it, and two abstained. Residents who spoke at the council meeting were worried the hospital would open the door to further commercialization of the neighborhood.

Kespohl, who lives in Country Club Estates, said he remembers attending the neighborhood meeting but said he did not participate in the vote. He said he chose not to participate because he knew his view in favor of the hospital's construction was controversial. Kespohl did not speak at the council meeting that night.

"The whole thing just doesn't make sense," Kespohl said.

Skala said last week that he stumbled across the e-mail on his computer while he was searching for something else. He didn’t remember that it had been sent, and he was surprised to find it.

Kespohl intends to figure out where the e-mail came from. “I’m going to get to the bottom of it,” he said.

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Michael Ugarte February 21, 2010 | 8:14 a.m.

Given all that's been reported on this issue, it seems to me Mr. Kespohl is not being honest about his early opposition to the hospital. He changed his mind because it was politically expedient to him. This is not the kind of person I want to represent me in the third ward. But far more important than all that is Karl Skala's integrity, open-mindedness, acute understanding of issues related to Columbia's future, and many years of service to the city.

(Report Comment)
Tim Dance February 21, 2010 | 8:18 a.m.

Mr. Kespohl,

When you are in a hole, it's best to stop digging.

(Report Comment)
Larry Schuster February 21, 2010 | 8:58 a.m.

Skala construed the cautionary e-mail as a vote against the project. Nothing in the e-mail indicates the sender was urging a "no" vote. Skala disregarded many neighbors on the west side of Old 63 who pressed him to vote yes on the project. Regardless of the e-mail Skala willingly voted to nix the jobs associated with Landmark. Thank goodness his vote did not prevail.

(Report Comment)
Tim Dance February 21, 2010 | 9:21 a.m.
This comment has been removed.
Chip Cooper February 21, 2010 | 10:44 a.m.

Mr. Schuster is laying the groundwork to allow Mr. K and his most honorable supporters to argue that it doesn't matter whether Mr. K was incorrect in his denial of email authorship. They'd prefer to ascribe Mr. K's potential gaffe to a simple slip of memory rather than a deficient character. In the process, Mr. K continues to imply that Mr. Skala forged the email to besmirch his character. It would be helpful if some of the people that Mr. K allegedly spoke to about buying the property would simply come forward and confirm of deny the contact. If he did contact them he's either a liar or maintains a righteous belief in false memories. If they confirm he didn't contact them then Mr. Skala would appear to be in league with a very creative forger. If I had to handicap this I'd put the odds at 5:1 in favor of Mr. Skala's story. I'd also put the odds at 100:1 that Mr. Shuster will continue doing anything and everything he can to discredit Mr. Skala and anyone else not anxious to vote YES on every development put before the Council.

(Report Comment)
Michael Sleadd February 21, 2010 | 11:47 a.m.

Well said Chip, but I would put the odds much higher than 5:1 in favor of Kespohl sending the email. Mike Martin published the entire email on his blog (, including technical info that shows it came from Kespohl's computer. I also know for a fact that other council members received this same email and responded to him, receiving no denial of the email coming from him.

(Report Comment)
Martha John February 21, 2010 | 12:18 p.m.

Karl Skala did not vote against the jobs this project would bring, only against the specific, and frankly unsuitable, site chosen to locate it. As I recall, no one in the audience or on the council that night denied that this would be a good business to have in Columbia. The big problem was it's location in a residentially zoned area when there were plenty of more suitable commercially zoned properties available.

(Report Comment)
Mike Martin February 21, 2010 | 12:38 p.m.

If Mr. Kespohl supported the Landmark Hospital project, as he claims, then he would have been going directly against one of his main supporters in the previous election, former 3rd Ward Councilman Bob Hutton.

Here's Mr. Hutton endorsing Mr. Kespohl with a paid election letter:

BUT here's Mr. Hutton condemning the Landmark Hospital project just a year later:

"The more important question in our minds is: Is this zoning classification appropriate for this tract and for the area in general, and how will it impact our neighborhood?" said Bob Hutton, a former Columbia City Council member who lives in Country Club Estates.

And here's Mr. Hutton again:

"Bob Hutton, a former Columbia City Council member who lives in Country Club Estates, said most of the neighbors are worried the hospital is not compatible with adjacent residential land."

And again:

"Bob Hutton, who is acting as a spokesman for the Country Club Estates neighborhood, said traffic is one concern. Another is that the hospital might spur a transition to commercial development in the neighborhood, something residents feel would erode the character of the area."

And then finally, here's Bob Hutton appearing at the council meeting during which Karl Skala voted against the Landmark Hospital project:

Bob Hutton, who spoke on behalf of his neighborhood, said allowing office or commercial use at the site would set the precedent for the 30 acres surrounding it to become commercial, which will encroach on residents. "We’re not asking for a guarantee, we’re asking for a vision," Hutton said.

Logically, why would Gary Kespohl go directly against Landmark's main opponent, Bob Hutton -- who endorsed him a year earlier -- and his own neighbors in supporting the Landmark Hospital?

That just doesn't make any sense.

(Report Comment)
Kip Kendrick February 21, 2010 | 12:48 p.m.

I was impressed with Karl's stance on the Landmark issue. He voted the voice of his constituents. The Country Club Estates voted overwhelmingly not to endorse the request for a zoning change, which reflected the sentiments of Kespohl's neighborhood. The Benton-Stephens neighborhood only had 13 votes as I recall, 9 in favor of the rezoning, 4 against. Both neighborhood votes were taken into consideration by Karl before he made his vote. The outcry from the Country Club highly outnumbered the response from Benton-Stephens. This issue had a greater effect on the Country Club. I'm concerned that Kespohl seems to have flip-flopped on his original stance. But, if he didn't flip-flop, then is he setting the precedent that Neighborhood Associations do not hold weight in his decision-making? This issue united the Country Club. If we can't trust that Kespohl would listen to the neighborhoods in the Third Ward, then can we trust him to represent our interests?

(Report Comment)
James Downey February 21, 2010 | 1:06 p.m.

I'd like to clarify that at the time of the May 5 2008 City Council meeting I was *not* President of the Country Club Estates Neighborhood Association, but just one of the concerned members of our association on this matter. It wasn't until that summer that I stepped into the role as President.

It is clear from the record that our neighborhood association did not oppose Landmark building their hospital in Columbia, along with the jobs and boost to our community - we just thought that the location chosen was inappropriate, and would cause problems serving as a precedent for rezoning other land in our neighborhood. We voiced our concerns to the Planning & Zoning Commission and to the City Council. Karl Skala, serving as our council representative, listened to our concerns and did his job.

I can't speak as to the veracity or not of Gary Kespohl's claim that he didn't send the email in question. But what is in the email as reported is consistent with attitudes in the neighborhood at the time - that's exactly how almost all of us felt. To criticize Mr. Skala for properly representing those attitudes seems disingenuous, at best.

Jim Downey

(Report Comment)
Glenn Rice February 23, 2010 | 8:48 a.m.

What, so this email was a forgery? Someone knew that Kespohl was going to be running again two years in the future, and forged this email to make him look bad in the future, even though it agreed with his position at the time? Pretty hard to believe.

The Missourian should dig a little deeper. Email sent to Council members is public record and subject to the sunshine law. How hard would it be to prove this message was actually sent?

(Report Comment)
Mike Martin February 23, 2010 | 12:38 p.m.

"Is this email a forgery?"

That's been Mr. Kespohl's claim, apparently, but I don't see how it could be. After going back to check an email he sent me on Feb. 15, the IP addresses and Novell X-Authentication readouts identically match the email he denies sending to the city council. Additionally, the Barracuda Firewall at the council cleared the matching IP address,, when the email landed there.

Feb. 15, 2010 email to me:
IP Address:

Return-path: <>
Delivery-date: Mon, 15 Feb 2010 14:58:13 -0600
Received: from reception ( [])
(authenticated bits=0)
by (8.13.6/8.13.1) with ESMTP id o1FKw0Ss011291
for <>; Mon, 15 Feb 2010 20:58:02 GMT
From: "Gary Kespohl" <>
To: "Mike Martin" <>

May 5 2008 email to council:
IP Address:

Return-path: <>
Received: from ([])
by with ESMTP (TLS encrypted); Mon, 05 May 2008 14:32:49 -0500
X-ASG-Debug-ID: 1210015952-11a6002f0000-FoDZz2
Received: from reception ( [])
From: "Gary Kespohl" <>
To: <>, <>,
<>, <>,
<>, <>,
Subject: Long term hospital proposal
Date: Mon, 5 May 2008 14:39:51 -0500

I guess he could be using a shared proxy server or someone could be tapping into his wireless signal (I've had that happen), but the coincidence would be extraordinary that another person on his proxy would send an email in his name to the Columbia City Council about an issue critical to his neighborhood.

(Report Comment)
Glenn Rice February 23, 2010 | 2:19 p.m.

Mike, "Is this email a forgery?" was a rhetorical question. :) I wouldn't have believed it even before reading your analysis. This plus a Sunshine Law request to the city should put any lingering doubts to rest....

(Report Comment)
Rachel Heaton February 23, 2010 | 3:24 p.m.

The Missourian has been working to track this e-mail to Kespohl. Working off the metadata we obtained from the e-mail, which Mr. Martin notes above, we have been able to track the e-mail to an IP address of a computer registered with CenturyTel. Unfortunately, that's as far back as we can trace it.
The metadata shows that the e-mail was sent from an e-mail account that Kespohl has confirmed is his. However, we cannot trace it specifically to his computer. We will have a blog post on The Watchword today from the reporter with more on this.

Rachel Heaton
Assistant City Editor
Columbia Missourian

(Report Comment)
Rob Weir February 23, 2010 | 4:07 p.m.

The Watchword blog is here, btw:

Rob Weir
Director of Digital Development
The Columbia Missourian

(Report Comment)
Tim Dance February 23, 2010 | 5:53 p.m.

Okay, the metadata that Mike has provided should be enough. Kespohl has emailed him and the IP numbers match. Since he owns a computer business, he probably has a static IP. Case solved, The Chamber of Commerce endorsed someone who has flip flopped his position then lied about it.
You all took no time in printing the slander of an angry man, but when Martin gives you proof that the email is genuine, you wring your hands. It is time to hold the Chamber accountable with their endorsements. Was the person that slandered Skala on the committee that made these endorsements? Stop acting like the National Enquirer and report the real story.

(Report Comment)
Rachel Heaton February 24, 2010 | 12:03 p.m.

Anne Christnovich wrote about her reporting process here:

We are continuing to look into this story and will report any new information.

Rachel Heaton
Assistant City Editor
Columbia Missourian

(Report Comment)

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