COLUMBIA — When Fifth Ward Councilwoman Helen Anthony proposed overturning a resolution that declared much of Columbia blighted during last Monday's City Council meeting, her peers generally were unreceptive.
Resolution 20-12, which the council passed Feb. 6, certified that a portion of Columbia "qualifies as a blighted area, or contains inadequacies which lead to blight" and established a board to advise the council as it navigated processes related to the application for and implementation of an enhanced enterprise zone.
Undeterred by the apparent lack of concern displayed by council members after Anthony's proposal, Citizens Involved and Invested in Columbia, or CIVIC, will pose the same question to Columbia's citizens.
On Monday, members of the political action committee began gathering signatures for an initiative petition that seeks to force council members to rescind the blight decree and to dissolve the advisory board. They plan to circulate their petition at Columbia Public Library from 5 to 7 p.m. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and from 3 to 5 p.m. Thursday.
The enhanced enterprise zone program is a system of tax incentives marketed as a tool for economic development, namely within the industrial sector. When Columbia's decision to pursue the program went public with the blight resolution in February, a coalition of community residents rose up to oppose it.
CIVIC members have several objections. They believe an enhanced enterprise zone and the blight decree could lead to the abuse of eminent domain and cite as an example the urban renewal of the late 1960s that wiped out the Sharp End, a central-city area that once was home to many black-owned businesses. They also worry about the impact on property values and wonder whether any economic development that results from an enhanced enterprise zone will benefit people who live in the areas deemed blighted.
While the opposition has been vocal for some time, their concerns eventually gave rise to CIVIC, which on March 13 filed paperwork with the Missouri Ethics Commission to become a political action committee.
In addition to worries about its consequences, which they most recently voiced in an ad in the Sunday edition of the Columbia Daily Tribune, CIVIC is also concerned about the legality of the blight resolution itself.
Citing Article II, Section 15 of the City Charter, which states that the council must enact "legislative business" by ordinance rather than resolution, CIVIC treasurer DeAnna Walkenbach alleged that the council used "the wrong instrument" in its Feb. 6 declaration.
She said establishing an advisory board with the potential to exercise legislative power falls beneath the "legislative business" umbrella. In doing so with a resolution, she continued, the council violated the charter.
Cavanaugh Noce, assistant to the city counselor, said CIVIC's argument could be "a real legal issue." He was not available for further comment Monday but said he would look into the matter.
In a statement issued Monday, CIVIC said that the council's decision to act by resolution "deprived the broader public of any meaningful input in the process." For one thing, it noted, city ordinances require multiple readings and an opportunity for public input. Resolutions do not.
Rescinding the resolution would have the effect of making the council start from square one if it wants to pursue an enhanced enterprise zone. The blight decree is the first step in a lengthy application process that the Missouri Department of Economic Development requires for governments seeking to establish zones.
Representatives of Regional Economic Development, Inc., including chairman Dave Griggs and director Michael Brooks, are among the primary proponents of an enhanced enterprise zone, which provide tax incentives for existing and incoming businesses that create jobs and economic investment.
If CIVIC's petition succeeds and the council decides to restart the process, Walkenbach said she envisions the group will be watching closely.