COLUMBIA — City Attorney Fred Boeckmann's recommendation to the Columbia City Council to rescind the blight decree was met with restrained applause and subdued cheers, despite Mayor Bob McDavid's request for no demonstrations at the council's meeting Monday evening.
The council unanimously voted in favor of Boeckmann's recommendations.
Originally adopted by the council Feb. 6, Resolution 20-12A established an Enhanced Enterprise Zone Advisory Board and certified that a portion of Columbia and pieces of Boone County contained "inadequacies that lead to blight."
Now that the resolution has been rescinded, Regional Economic Development Inc. will have to restart the process of getting a map approved and an advisory board established.
REDI President Mike Brooks said he found it "hard to respond" to the recommended rescission and asserted that "every good faith effort" had been made to "help Columbia be a stronger player in the creation of jobs."
"I hope the council realizes that it's important to have public buy-in before resolutions and ordinances are established," Columbia citizen Traci Wilson-Kleekamp said during public comment. "The public wants to be in on these decisions, particularly if it's about economic development involving blight and people's property."
Kleekamp also recommended that the advisory board be more diverse and representative of Columbia's population and that a dynamic conversation take place about all the available tools for economic development.
Under the state statute for enhanced enterprise zones, establishing a blight decree was a necessary step in the process of creating an enhanced enterprise zone. The enhanced enterprise zone program would use tax incentives to encourage new development in the manufacturing sector. New development, according to REDI, would result in job growth.
The Missouri Department of Economic Development used poverty and unemployment statistics from the 2000 census to determine which areas qualified as blighted. The boundaries of the zone map included the areas considered blighted.
Yet the blight decree opened the flood gates to public backlash concerning potential eminent domain abuse, declining property values, the use of 12-year-old data to paint an economic portrait and skepticism regarding the effectiveness of an enhanced enterprise zone as a tool for economic development.
The most potent argument, however, was the questionable legality of the original resolution itself.
Article II, Section 15 of the City Charter states that the council must enact "legislative business" by ordinance rather than resolution. Opponents of the blight decree declared that the use of a resolution kept the public from providing meaningful input in the process. City ordinances require multiple readings and opportunities for public input, whereas resolutions do not.
"The point is that the blight decree and advisory board should have been established by ordinance," Boeckmann said. He apologized for not recognizing that misstep in February.
Despite the rescission, members of the public continued to push the importance of addressing unemployment and poverty in Columbia. Tim Rich, executive director at Heart of Missouri United Way, said unemployment is the "real crisis" that exists in Columbia, and for United Way to provide a path out of poverty to the people who need it most, available jobs need to be at the end of the pipeline.
"We must get the jobs into these poor communities," Rich said during public comment. "I encourage you to do whatever it takes to get those jobs here."
Even with the need for job creation, Sixth Ward City Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe said the process of establishing economic development programs such as the enhanced enterprise zone still needs to be done correctly.
"In terms of jobs, the community is starting to have a larger dialogue about how the enhanced enterprise zone could be one component in economic development," Hoppe said. "I look forward to furthering that discussion and I appreciate everyone's work."