GUEST COMMENTARY: CiVic seeks to have civil debate about enhanced enterprise zones

Friday, May 4, 2012 | 7:38 p.m. CDT; updated 4:58 p.m. CDT, Saturday, May 5, 2012

Citizens Involved and Invested in Columbia, or CiViC, formed in response to the City Council acting by resolution, not ordinance, to create an EEZ Advisory Board and declare 60 percent of Columbia to be blighted. The scope of the blight map is staggering — including all of our vibrant downtown, the historic and pastoral MU quadrangle and many beautiful neighborhoods.

Equally surprising is the constituency of the EEZ Advisory Board. Six of its seven members were handpicked by Regional Economic Development Inc., the public-private agency that developed Columbia’s EEZ proposal. But the most disappointing thing about the resolution was that it was announced and passed in a single Council meeting, without affording the broader public any meaningful opportunity to be involved. This violates our City Charter. Our City Charter is quite clear: The Council must act by ordinance, which requires consideration at two meetings and a public hearing before any vote. This breakdown in the democratic process catalyzed citizens to form CiViC.

When Council failed to rescind Resolution R20-12A, CiViC began a ballot initiative drive that, to date, has gathered over 2,000 signatures. In the process, we have heard concerns from citizens, business-owners, real estate agents, home-owners and others about the very real possibility of negative unintended consequences of blight on property values and subsequently our tax base.

While some of those concerns relate to introducing the potential for the exercise of eminent domain, let us be clear: CiViC understands that a blight declaration is one step among many that would be required to exercise eminent domain. If and when City Council seeks to exercise eminent domain, it will not have to take the blight step, as it was already taken by resolution R20-12A. Blight has also been decreed in the past, and it has led to eminent domain. These are not lies, they are facts.

CiViC seeks to have an open, informed public debate on the question of whether an EEZ is appropriate for Columbia. So far, the EEZ programs in Missouri have produced only a few jobs per zone per year.

Every job that has yet been created within an EEZ has cost the public an average of more than $300,000 in tax revenue. Columbia's unemployment rate is the lowest in Missouri and our schools regularly ask the citizens for additional financial support. Over time, we should expect our public institutions may come to us as homeowners and consumers to make up the loss to the tax base from abatements and incentives. Can we afford to give away these tax revenues for the modest job gains? For existing businesses that profit from the opportunity to install new floors or pour new concrete, it must be worth it, as these are the most ardent supporters of the EEZ. For the rest of us, the answer is less clear. In a community like ours, we should be able to have a civil debate about this issue that is open to all perspectives.

Unfortunately, that is not what we have had until now. The process has been closed from the start. REDI designed the program, then had their entire slate of nominees appointed to the board. We would not accept one constituency to appoint all members to the Citizens Police Review Board, we should not accept it with the EEZ. Council blighted the majority of Columbia on the mistaken advice that no one would care. The citizens of Columbia care, and care deeply.

In response to our legitimate concerns, CiViC was recently tarred with a string of ad hominem attacks. The citizens of Columbia rejected this type of divisive, negative campaigning in the most recent City Council election, and we expect that rejection to continue. We as a community deserve better than this.

CiViC does not seek to divide Columbia. Who we are is simple: Volunteer citizens who are involved and invested in Columbia. What we seek is also simple: City Council should rescind the action taken by resolution on Feb. 6 and give the public its full and meaningful rights to participate in the process.

The City Council has had five opportunities to rescind Resolution R20-12A and start this process over. On Monday, they will have a sixth opportunity, and we encourage them to take the necessary steps to restore meaningful citizen participation to the process of government.

The CiViC leadership includes Jeremy Root, Dan Goldstein, Tracy Greever-Rice, Tyree Byndom, Ines Segert, Catherine Parke, Karl Skala, Ken Midkiff, Traci Wilson-Kleekamp and DeAnna Walkenbach.

Questions? Contact Opinion editor Elizabeth Conner.

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