Message has become an issue in Third Ward Columbia City Council contest.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org, 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.