J. KARL MILLER: Columbia's highs and lows in 2010

Wednesday, January 5, 2011 | 12:01 p.m. CST; updated 9:02 p.m. CST, Wednesday, January 5, 2011

I don't do New Year's resolutions because, for the life of me, I cannot imagine anyone being the least bit interested in my nor any other person's goals. Nevertheless, as one who has been a full-time resident of Columbia for more than 20 years and a part-timer for 75, I will post my judged highs and lows for the city in the year just past.

Leading my parade of the good are two organizations dedicated to honoring and remembering veterans: the Salute to Veterans Organization, with its Memorial Day Air Show and Parade, and the Central Missouri Honor Flight, which has flown 714 World War II veterans to visit the war's memorial in Washington, D.C. The former has served the community for 22 years, while the latter has been in business for two.

The Salute to Veterans, created and nurtured by Mary Posner, and the Honor Flight, now directed by Mary and Steve Paulsell, have this in common: Both are organized and staffed solely by volunteers and funded through the generosity of corporate sponsors and donations. That this city boasts persons of vision and dedication who respond so unselfishly with their time and money is something of which we are rightfully proud.

Also on my good-for-Columbia list are the five red-light cameras installed at various intersections. Roundly and often slammed alternately as a cash cow for the city and as an unwarranted invasion of privacy, these cameras have produced the results for which they were intended. In addition to identifying scofflaws, the number of accidents at those intersections declined 10.6 percent overall, according to city statistics. The cameras have rendered the red light more relevant.

The last of my good guys is our own police chief, Ken Burton. Reacting to a February  SWAT raid that drew unfavorable attention nationwide, Burton faced this issue professionally and logically. Admitting that the raid's process was flawed, he accomplished a rapid and detailed investigation, followed by corrective action. Of course this did not curtail the ever-present second-guessing, but the chief is a keeper.

The first low light of my "who was bad" roster is People for a Taser-Free Columbia. Its ill-advised and self-promoting petition gained a spot on the November ballot. Happily, the Taser ban went down to ignominious defeat as three-quarters of the voters preferred a police officer's judgment over that of the anti-Taser crowd. Nationally, a 37 percent increase in the number of police officers killed in the line of duty in 2010, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund,  further illuminates the foolishness of the proposed ban.

Running a close second is the Citizens Police Review Board's handling of the December 2009 complaint by Derek Billups that Officer Nathan Turner employed excessive force in apprehending him. I won't go into the details of "who shot John" inasmuch as neither the Review Board members nor I was present at the scene; however, it is as I predicted in previous columns: Second-guessing of police officers and their procedures by uninformed and inexpert "officials" creates a rift between the functionaries.

I still believe the board is an unnecessary duplication of the oversight already provided by the Police Department, the City Council, the city manager and the press. But, if we are destined to retain this citizen panel, one would hope the selection process would weigh more heavily on the leadership, and executive and decision-making experience of its members. The officer on the beat should not have to look over his or her shoulder in apprehension of 20/20 hindsight.

In determining the "ugly," I chose two unworthy events. The first, the strewing of cotton balls on the property of the Black Culture Center by two drunken students, was about as ugly and stupid an act as one might imagine. But, in this instance, the ugliness was compounded by the incident being blown completely out of proportion by those who would create a "hate crime." There is no apology here for the act nor for the actors; however, the subsequent reach back into history to indict an entire community was a bit much.

Ugly No. 2 involves the all-too-human tragedy surrounding the dismissal from the Missouri football team of No. 1 running back and team captain Derrick Washington, for serious alleged misconduct. This in no way judges the guilt or innocence of this young student-athlete — it always hurts to see a young person with a bright future fall from grace.

These are my nominees for 2010's good, bad and ugly — what are your candidates? It will not surprise me if I make some of your lists.

J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via e-mail at

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Ellis Smith January 5, 2011 | 6:35 p.m.

No doubt, Karl, you will end up on some body's "list," but there are worse situations.

Please continue writing.

(Report Comment)
Bill Wolff January 6, 2011 | 10:47 a.m.

Hi Karl,

Maybe the EPA, Sierra Club and Ken Midkiff should be on the "downer" list for micro-management ideas to manage Hinkson creek levels to a few inches up or down. So far as is published, they haven't found evidence of toxic run-off, significant bacterial contamination, just fluctuations in water levels. Maybe they can call on Obama to manage water levels through his divine powers, i.e., the anointed one. Is this not another definition of insanity? Bill Wolff

(Report Comment)
John Schultz January 6, 2011 | 3:24 p.m.

Colonel Miller, you might rethink your opinion on the red light cameras reducing accidents at the five intersections they are currently positioned at. The information released by the city, which unfortunately none of the media dug into, does not warrant the headlines. I requested the memo that Bill Watkins sent to the council members and you can view that information here:

Specifically, you can see the number of accidents and other data here:

Accidents were cut in half at the Worley and Stadium intersection, but we have no idea if the previous (pre-red light camera) or post-RLC accidents were caused by scofflaws running red light or for other reasons. Accidents at Providence and Broadway dipped slightly, accidents at Providence and Stadium were essentially unchanged, while accidents at Stadium and Worley were up approximately 25%.

Unfortunately, the data released is very terse without much additional insight, something I guess I expected our local media to dig into. Instead, I'll be the one filing the Sunshine request with CPD and Public Works to find out the real data.

(Report Comment)
Don Milsop January 6, 2011 | 4:51 p.m.

Many problems at intersections could be solved if green traffic lights started flashing five to seven seconds before turning yellow. This would allow drivers sufficient time to judge whether to proceed or begin braking, based on all the traffic conditions. It's a very simple fix, and far less expensive than cameras. Of course it wouldn't generate any revenue for the city. It would alleviate a driver having to make a snap decision based on a stale green or yellow light. Less confusion equals safer driving and fewer accidents.

(Report Comment)

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