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DAVID ROSMAN: A few thoughts for Mayor McDavid

Thursday, November 18, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CST; updated 1:05 a.m. CST, Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Thank you, Mr. McDavid, for taking the time to speak with my Introduction to Speech class at Columbia College. I do hope the bribe, er, gift was satisfactory. Especially if you have a sweet tooth and are a chocolate lover; and who isn’t?

You engaged the class, speaking to the importance of their voice in our government. We also learned that transforming from businessman to political leader is not like in the movies. It takes time to learn the ropes.

There are a few issues that we did not touch on in our Q-and-A. First is a matter of the city’s intercollegiate pride.

We are aware of your connection to MU and the economic impact Missouri’s flagship of higher education has on Columbia and Boone County. We also know that Columbia’s pride for our university’s sports and academic pursuits is second to none.

However, three other post-secondary institutions in Columbia carry the same, if not greater, pride. Columbia and Stephens colleges and Moberly Area Community College, though much smaller, offer some of the finest education in the state and the country, and they are damned proud of it. None will claim second fiddle to MU.

So why, Mr. Mayor, do you suggest that the city paint new transit buses in the black and gold of MU? Are maroon and white, or blue and white, all that bad? And not the dull blue of the old buses, but high-gloss and bright blues and maroons. Make the buses shine, like our pride.

Mr. Mayor, may I recommend that you declare a Columbia College Week and a Stephens College Week during their respective alumni days, and a MACC Week just because the institution deserves it? Parades and dedication dinners, special events and, of course, clowns, er, political dignitaries. OK, maybe not parades.

Second, there seems to be a major communication problem within your administration, originating from somewhere deep in the City Council offices. The Missourian reported on Oct. 4 that, for the second time, business owners on Business Loop 70 and Providence Road were not notified of a public hearing concerning the construction of proper crosswalks near Hickman High School.

The Missourian reported that First Ward Councilman Paul Sturtz "said it was unfortunate that the city was still having communication problems” concerning citizen notification. You told the class that poor citizen communication was the main cause of the proposed high-power transmission lines controversy. In fact, four citizens came to me on Thursday and Friday asking what I knew about the power line and crosswalk problems. I suggested they write letters to you.

My advice: In business you would fire the incompetent person. In government, you reassign him or her.

My third concern is the “great parking meter debate.” You talked to us about the parking garage at Fifth and Walnut streets, but mostly in terms of the city becoming a landlord to the future retail shops to be located on the ground level of the new structure. However, the issue of the distribution of parking meter revenues is now center stage. Let me tell you a story.

In 2002, Denver Mayor Wellington Webb decided to raise downtown parking fees. The city had pulled money from its parking revenues to help pay off a bond. Webb raised parking meter rates to help make up the difference.

One man got mad and ran for mayor himself in 2003 based on the great parking meter fiasco. John Hickenlooper went from being a one-issue candidate to representing the needs of all of Denver’s communities. Watch his commercial on YouTube. John was a two-term mayor of Denver and today is governor-elect of Colorado because of the parking meters.

Do not let this revenue issue make you a one-term wonder. You have proposed using at least half of Columbia's parking meter revenues to support the city's general operations fund, rather than using those revenues to pay off the bonds that helped build the new parking garage. But, like Denver, if we pull from our parking revenues to support something else (the general fund), we will have to make up the difference. We will have to find another way to pay for the parking garage, and nothing says you won't raise prices at the parking meters.

Plus, the city promised bondholders that their bonds would be backed by parking meter revenues. Would it hurt our contract with those bondholders if we pulled revenue from parking meters to support the general fund? And if we broke that contract, wouldn't that hurt our city in future bond sales? Investors will shy away, saying Columbia does not keep its promises.

Finally, Mr. Mayor, you are the mayor. Take a lesson from Darwin Hindman, a simple, quasi-retired resident of Columbia. Stand tall, smile at everybody and sound really excited about whatever you are talking about. Acknowledge Darwin when he rides by on his bicycle, but it is you now sitting in the big chair at Broadway and Seventh Street.

And please, Mr. Mayor, make sure the streets are clean, cleared of snow, and that the garbage is picked up on time.

David Rosman is an award-winning editor, writer, professional speaker and college instructor in communications, ethics, business and politics. You can read more of David’s commentaries at InkandVoice.com and New York Journal of Books.

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Comments

Mike Martin November 18, 2010 | 1:25 p.m.

Nice article.

Though your points are well taken, I'm willing to defer to the Mayor on the parking meter issue. I'm glad he's asking questions because -- as with so much about City Hall's black box budgeting -- we don't exactly know what parking meter revenues are supporting.

Is it bond payments?
Is it maintenance?
Is it more parking meters?
Is it more parking garages?

Or, are parking revenues just more funds city management exclusively controls, for whatever black box projects it wants to support?

(I'm always suspicious when city attorney Fred Boeckmann snaps at Council members over their questions, as he did with the Mayor on this issue).
http://www.columbiatribune.com/news/2010...

Meanwhile, read:

Turning Small Change into Big Changes
by Donald Shoup and Douglas Kolozsvari
http://shoup.bol.ucla.edu/SmallChange.pd...

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith November 18, 2010 | 1:51 p.m.

Why NOT parades, David? For 102 consecutive years a University of Missouri System campus has held annual parades; not one parade has ever been cancelled or rescheduled. Rain, snow, howling wind: We don't care!

David, you need to experience the thrill of seeing St. Patrick wheeled into Rolla, replete with robes and a bodyguard of knights, ALL ON A MANURE SPREADER. This takes place after the streets have been turned solid green (drums and drums of vegetable dye).

Today St. Patrick arrives on a spotlessly clean manure spreader, but for most of this annual parade's storied history St. Patrick and his knights arrived standing in at least two inches of fresh...

There as been much speculation as to what the manure on the spreader is supposed to represent. As Freud has posited, "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar."

(Report Comment)
David Rosman November 18, 2010 | 3:15 p.m.

Ellis - OK - Parades are back in.

Mike - I love the CIA metaphor, though I find the operating budget not so clandestine. I do wonder, however, if the police chief has a slush fund for "contracts" on us poor citizen journalists.

(Report Comment)
Chris Delbert November 18, 2010 | 3:44 p.m.

It seems that “John Hickenlooper” is a nickname or pseudonym.

(Report Comment)
Mike Martin November 18, 2010 | 3:59 p.m.

And like all good spy stories, your article raises more questions than it answers.

Did the city promise bondholders that their bonds would be backed by parking meter revenues?

Would it hurt our contract with those bondholders if we pulled revenue from parking meters to support the general fund?

And if we broke that contract, would that hurt our city in future bond sales?

If you can answer these questions with facts, figures and citations, please cc the Mayor (he was having a hard time getting answers, last I checked).

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith November 18, 2010 | 4:13 p.m.

Thank you David. We sincerely do value your opinion.

Ours are honest-to-goodness parades, with civilian and military (United States Army) marching bands, and an occasional guest NASA astronaut. So far we've produced three NASA Astronauts (all have flown in space.) Coverage has been provided by television stations from St. Louis and Springfield; and the newspapers Post Dispatch and Springfield News-Leader, including the latter's coverage of our successful 2003 attempt to regain the North American Solar (racing car) Challenge.

Rolla is only slightly farther by highway from St. Louis and Springfield than it is from Columbia. :) :)

(Report Comment)
John Schultz November 18, 2010 | 4:44 p.m.

Mike, it seems to me that the report for the last council meeting answered some of the questions you asked.

(Report Comment)
Mike Martin November 18, 2010 | 5:41 p.m.

Schultzie:

If you're referring to this report, no -- it really didn't:
http://gocolumbiamo.granicus.com/MetaVie...

(Oddly, the city changed the URL of that report shortly after I included it in a story I wrote).

This report had hand wringing, hemming, hawing, warnings and worries; it had projections; it had advice; but in reality, it answered none of the questions David -- or the Mayor -- have posed.

It used no citations of any authority; it included no attachments from the original bond negotiations; it included no third party opinion.

It did not say transferring revenue from parking meters to other uses would violate anything. In fact, in several places the staff report says that transferring the revenue would violate nothing and NOT be a cause for a bond rating downgrade!

"There are no legal rights of bondholders to prohibit the transfer of funds," the report explicitly notes.

And yet -- senior city managers are worried. Worried about what MIGHT be "drastic increases" in parking fees. Worried about what MIGHT be financial community panic.

Worried, worried, worried.

Rather than expressing all manner of worry, find solid answers to the questions David and Mayor pose about parking fees, backed up with real evidence, citations, etc.

Not advice. Not "opinion." Not hemming and hawing.

Until any of us can see more than mere hand-wringing, there's not much point in arguing this stuff.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz November 18, 2010 | 9:10 p.m.

Mike, yep that's the report I was thinking of. Your first question of "Did the city promise bondholders that their bonds would be backed by parking meter revenues?" seems to be a no based on the italicized text on page 1. That, combined with the second paragraph on page 2, implies to me that your questions of "Would it hurt our contract with those bondholders if we pulled revenue from parking meters to support the general fund?" and "And if we broke that contract, would that hurt our city in future bond sales?" are both no as well.

The italicized text on page 2 makes it sound like $75K is already taken out of the parking utility and goes into the general fund. If so, McDavid's request of $400K could be reduced by almost a quarter and the numbers on that page of proposed increases should be reworked. Another item to point out is that one of the three existing bond issues for the parking utility will be paid off in 2016 and reduce the required principal and interest payments by over $100K per year.

(Report Comment)
Mike Martin November 19, 2010 | 1:06 p.m.

So, if the answers are all "no," Mayor McDavid isn't so off-base as he's been made to sound by senior level city management.

But let me again reiterate that "seems" and "implies" aren't good enough when you're talking about legal contracts. Rather,

"Did the city promise bondholders that their bonds would be backed by parking meter revenues?"

We don't know and won't know until we see signed, written bondholder covenants and/or contracts.

"Would it hurt our contract with those bondholders if we pulled revenue from parking meters to support the general fund?"

Again, show me the contracts!

"And if we broke that contract, would that hurt our city in future bond sales?"

It could, but only if we broke the contract without cause. Until we see the contract(s), we can't tell if we're breaking anything or not.

(Report Comment)
David Rosman November 20, 2010 | 5:58 p.m.

@Chris - Between the discussion between Schultz and Martin, yours fluttered out. Yes, John Hickenlooper is a real person. I met him in Denver during his run for mayor.

(Report Comment)
Chris Delbert November 20, 2010 | 6:27 p.m.

@David,

That name struck me as funny after getting an email(a nice one) from you guys busting me for my lame attempt at an alias, so I typed out the first thing that came to mind. In my postings, I generally try not to get too wrapped up in lengthy debates, I don't have the time or patience for it. I usually try to add pertinent information or just add the first silly thought that comes to mind. So far that's worked out mostly ok (and there seem to be more on the side of silly thoughts than pertinent info). But, I have met a couple of old friends on here, and you guys seem to be pretty personable and attentive. At the very least, all this should be very interesting over the next couple of months..

(Report Comment)

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