COLUMBIA — Outrage filled the Friends Room at the Columbia Public Library on Friday afternoon, culminating in an initiative to recall Fourth Ward Councilman Daryl Dudley.
Angry residents alternately talked over one another, cheered each other on, snickered and shouted down Dudley. He had assembled them for a public meeting to discuss his latest proposal for how to redraw the city's ward boundaries.
He did little talking.
Amidst accusations of gerrymandering, some of the roughly 40 people in attendance started plotting ways to recall him from office. Dudley was elected to the seat in April 2010.
Going into the meeting, concern focused mostly on the political impact of Dudley's proposal. As previously reported in the Missourian, some of Dudley's critics charge that the precincts he would move into the First Ward are those where he fared worst in the election that he won by a narrow margin in 2010. It's an accusation Dudley denied.
"I don't care about anybody's voting, their affiliations," Dudley said in explanation of his proposed amendments to Trial D, one of the four ward reapportionment options that the Columbia City Council is currently considering. "It has nothing to do with if I can get re-elected if I decide to run again."
A woman who said she lived in the Fourth Ward spoke up. "You say you don't care what the voting patterns are. … But you're familiar with them, right? And what the impact (of your new plan) would be?"
Dudley answered that yes, he was familiar with the demographics and voting patterns of his ward.
"So isn't it your obligation to care?" she asked. "I'm asking you to take accountability for the impact. You can't just say you don’t care."
Coming out of the meeting, the sense pervaded among residents that they were not being listened to and not receiving adequate representation.
Intention and impact
Dudley maintained that the motive behind his map is strictly geographic.
He repeatedly referred to the infrastructure needs of central city neighborhoods. He asserted that consolidating the shared interests of those property owners into one ward would give them a stronger voice.
"I want better attention for the First Ward," Dudley said.
"And every neighborhood association in the First Ward wants Plan E," someone called out.
As with many other times the crowd felt they had undermined one of Dudley's assertions, chortling could be heard throughout the room.
"I was elected by the Fourth Ward," Dudley said. "I am here for the entire city."
"You said you represent the city not the ward, but that's not true," Elizabeth Hornbeck said. "We live in Ward Four and we got to vote for one person. … So that means you represent us, not the people in other wards. I'm sorry I have to explain that to you."
Dudley said that the amount of support he's received for his plans roughly equals the amount of opposition he's faced. But, when repeatedly asked for evidence of support for his plans, Dudley could not specify any names.
He also said that about 99.7 percent of the people in his ward really don't care one way or another about the reapportionment.
One member of the public confirmed he had heard Dudley correctly. "Then I think the rest who do care are in this room," he said.
A flier made its way around the meeting room before the session began that asked "Is It Time To Recall Ward 4 Councilman Daryl Dudley?" Several in attendance, including those onboard to help with the recall, claimed they did not know who had put it out.
Jeannette Jackson is vice president of the Park Hill Neighborhood Association.
"In the face of all the opposition and all the good arguments that have been made in front of you, it is not understandable how you could (choose to) not represent a significant part of your constituency," she said, adding that she was speaking on behalf of the entire association, which represents about 115 homes.
Speaking as a citizen, she added, "This sucks. It really sucks."
Jackson said she could come to no other conclusion than to assume that Dudley was working on behalf of a hidden agenda. "He is not representing his constituents," she said.
Hank Ottinger, chair of the Historic Old Southwest Neighborhood Association, has an idea of who could be pulling Dudley's strings. "I think it's the development community, the Chamber of Commerce, the Republican establishment," he said.
Dudley looked exhausted as he tried to fend off such claims after the meeting.