GEORGE KENNEDY: What if the two sides worked together on EEZ?

Thursday, May 10, 2012 | 2:55 p.m. CDT; updated 1:46 p.m. CDT, Thursday, May 24, 2012

Act in haste, repent at leisure, the old saying has it.

Having acted in haste when they passed a resolution in February to start Columbia on the path toward our own enhanced enterprise zone, our City Council servants repented unanimously Monday night.

The lead repenter was City Counselor Fred Boeckmann, who confessed to having given bad advice back then. That first step should have been a formal ordinance. His confession of error was greeted warmly by nearly everybody in the room.

Council members, who had intended to rescind only the overly broad map of areas to be deemed “blighted” while leaving the EEZ advisory board intact, instead voted to reverse the earlier action entirely and, in effect, start over. (Indeed, during a two-minute meeting Wednesday, they voted unanimously to re-create the advisory board. There’ll be a public hearing in a couple of weeks. The audience consisted of Karl Skala, a couple of reporters and me. The Missourian had a good report Thursday.)

About 20 residents who addressed the council before Monday’s vote, including some of the strongest critics of the February resolution, made clear that they hated the sin rather than the sinners. Mr. Boeckmann, who I’m sure hasn’t had much practice apologizing in public, looked uncomfortable as speaker after speaker granted him absolution.

Nearly all the speakers proceeded to urge more inclusion and greater transparency when the process resumes. There was also near unanimity that Columbia, despite its low unemployment rate and its education-centered economy, has a serious need for more good jobs, especially in manufacturing. (The Columbia Business Times recently reported that our 10 biggest manufacturers have more than 2,000 employees total. That’s less than a fifth of the 13,000-plus people who work at MU.)

To me, the most persuasive speakers Monday were Peggy Kirkpatrick, who heads the Food Bank for Central and Northeast Missouri, and Tim Rich, her counterpart at the United Way. Both took care to say they weren’t taking a position on the merits of either the process or the EEZ. Both laid out sobering statistics that show the underside of Columbia.

Ms. Kirkpatrick said that the Food Bank’s pantry on Big Bear Boulevard, the largest local source of free food, has seen an increase of more than 10 percent in its clientele, to 22,638, in the past year. The increase in hunger demonstrates the urgency of job creation, she said.

Mr. Rich pointed out that Columbia’s poverty rate is 21 percent. To most of us, comfortably in the middle class, that poverty is invisible. But in the Columbia Public Schools, 43 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches. And 80 percent of those children are black.

The United Way is shifting focus to combat “generational poverty.” For that effort to have a chance of success, the council must, he said, “Do whatever it takes as fast as you can” to create more jobs at a living wage.

When Dave Griggs approached the microphone, he jokingly identified himself as “the villain of the community.” In some quarters, that’s no joke. He’s chairman of the board of Regional Economic Development Inc., the public-private organization that leads Columbia’s economic development efforts and seeks to create the EEZ.

Knowing it was fruitless, he nevertheless urged the council not to throw out the EEZ advisory board along with the blight map, which is already being redrawn to focus on only the sections of the city that really do have high unemployment, low incomes and sites for industry.

“Do we want to provide good jobs or do we not?” he asked, rhetorically.

When he left the chamber after the council vote, I followed him outside to ask what he made of the evening. I was surprised, and told him so, when he said there will have to be a concerted effort to lobby the council to move quickly toward the EEZ.

Surely, I thought, the meeting we’d just left showed a widely shared understanding that Columbia needs good jobs at good wages for the jobless and underemployed. Surely, with more community involvement and a narrowly drawn map, council members will see the EEZ as a useful lure for manufacturers.

He wasn’t so sure. He worries, he said, that citizen pressure for diversity on an expanded advisory board will lead to further delay and renewed argument about recruitment incentives.

While we talked, Mr. Rich walked up. I eavesdropped shamelessly. Afterward, I realized that I just might have overheard the start of something unusual and important.

What if this controversy were to result in a uniting of the poor with the powerful? How could the council — or even the critics — say no to job creation proposals backed by not only the REDI board but also the jobless and the hungry themselves?

After last year’s attempt to gerrymander council ward boundaries was beaten back by angry citizens, Mayor Bob McDavid offered a lesson learned: “Never get in the way of an engaged citizenry.”

With job creation as the goal, what if it turns out that we’re really all engaged on the same side?

George Kennedy is a former managing editor at the Missourian and professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism. He has been a volunteer at the Food Bank for nearly 10 years and is a member of the board of directors. Questions? Contact Opinion editor Elizabeth Conner.

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Richard Saunders May 10, 2012 | 4:40 p.m.

There is nothing that any council can do to reverse the loss of "good" jobs, especially those in manufacturing.

As I've laid out, time and time again, is that this is the unavoidable result of the latest credit-fueled crack-up boom.

As long as a private banking cartel has a monopoly on counterfeiting the notes that we are all forced to use in our daily lives, there is no escape in the theft of purchasing power that flows from us to the counterfeiters.

Now that in itself is bad enough, but when there's a global cartel of cartels who keep expanding the scam to all economies, well it can only appear to work like any other ponzi scheme, collapsing the instant they run out of fresh suckers.

Right this very second, dollars are being created to help offset the collapse in Europe, which will show up in time in increased prices overall as the money flows through the economy.

Mr. Kennedy, if you're really interested in job creation, you need not eavesdrop, but rather call up Professor Peter Klein in the MU Economics Dept., who just last week testified to Congress about the wholly destructive entity that the cartel d.b.a. "The Federal Reserve System" is to not only the US economy, but the global one as well.

He is likely the most valuable asset on this subject in all of Columbia (maybe even Missouri, but UMKC has Bill Black), yet he might as well not exist, as evidenced by the local media.

(Report Comment)
David Sautner May 10, 2012 | 4:57 p.m.

The rich and the poor unite???? Where who what where who what who what where who hugh? You must be from another planet!!

(Report Comment)
Mike Martin May 10, 2012 | 9:02 p.m.

In contrast to Mr. Kennedy, I saw the Kirkpatrick/Rich testimony as among the most specious of the evening.

This isn't to say Kirkpatrick and Rich don't do great work: they do.

But to suggest, as Mr. Rich did, that the end justifies the means -- "Do whatever it takes as fast as you can" -- calls forth a cavalcade of moral hazard that any studied ethicist would roundly condemn.

What's more, both Rich and Kirkpatrick tried to play both sides, have it both ways.

"We're not here to support the EEZ," they said on the one hand. "But we're here in favor of everything it is supposed to do."

That kind of precarious balancing act strikes me as neither fundamentally fair nor intellectually honest. It also suggests nothing more than a cursory understanding of a complex program that packs a wallop by design.

Finally, if we ever want to have a true two-sided conversation about the serious issues Mr. Kennedy addresses here, our opinion leaders -- Mr. Kennedy chief among them -- have to stop defacing the people involved in half the argument.

On the one side -- in this case, the side that supports blight/EEZ -- he refers to "Peggy Kirkpatrick," "Tim Rich," "Dave Griggs," "Bob McDavid."

Mr. Kennedy goes to great lengths to tell us how he listens to them, even to the point of "eavesdropping." He puts names to faces. He humanizes their positions and presentations.

On the other side, Mr. Kennedy sees a nameless, faceless thing he calls "angry citizens" that Dr. McDavid converted into an equally faceless thing with a prettier name called "an engaged citizenry."

It's especially tough when you know, as most of us do, that this nameless, faceless thing is what prompted the subject of this article: the Great Repentance at City Hall, the minor miracle, the return -- if even briefly -- to fair discourse and civic sanity.

But that is the power of the "Kennedy Discount" -- Mr. Kennedy's notable bent toward discounting the voices of average citizens. Mr. Waters, at the other paper, does it too. But Mr. Kennedy has raised the practice to a high and sometimes subtle art.

In his less subtle moments, John Clark is a "large, shambling fellow," Mr. Kennedy wrote a while back. So many of the rest of us, he has written in the past, are "civically obsessed gadflies."

Given the tendency among most of our local leaders to also apply it, the "Kennedy Discount" is one of the biggest hurdles our community faces in trying to reach any sort of consensus.

When one side of an issue doesn't respect the other side, continually discounting its voice and position, no consensus will ever be achieved.

(Report Comment)
Tracy Greever-Rice May 10, 2012 | 11:19 p.m.

I read your editorial today with interest. I think it is unfair to suggest that anyone in CiViC would choose to promote their political agenda over creating or keeping a job open for an underemployed or unemployed Columbian.

It’s really not quite that simple. First, all Missouri communities are hamstrung by state statute into designating “blight” to establish an EEZ. If someone in Columbia really wanted to improve the strength-to-weakness ratio of the EEZ program, they would work hard to lobby sympathetic legislators to amend the statute to establish program criteria less damaging to low and moderate income homeowners. It’s a pretty impoverished argument that poor people have to risk the value of their property for jobs. Surely we are a smarter community and state than that.

Second, the central city neighborhood associations that were intended to be in the EEZ at one point met with Mr. Brooks, the Economic Development Director for the City, where he unequivocally refused to make any sort of commitment to targeting the jobs created within an EEZ to the neighbors whose property would be blighted to create them. So poor people's property can be legally branded as diminished to justify tax breaks for businesses that have no obligation to hire those people??? How is that a fair deal or a successful way to alleviate poverty???

(Report Comment)
Tracy Greever-Rice May 10, 2012 | 11:22 p.m.

But more importantly is addressing the comments regarding poverty. Poverty certainly exists here. But it’s much more complicated to understand in Columbia than in most places. And most of what we know about poverty at the national and even state level doesn't apply particularly well to understanding poverty patterns locally.

Mr. Rich’s 21% is actually a percent too low according the 2006-2010 American Community Survey. The estimate in that report for all persons in Columbia is 22.9%, compared to 14.0% for Missouri and 13.8% of all persons in the US. This statistic reported independently sounds pretty disheartening.

However, when one starts to unpack the poverty data by segments of the population, the story meaningfully changes. For example, in the same 2006-2010 ACS data, 17.1% of Columbians under 18 are in poverty, compared to 19.3% and 19.2% in Missouri and the US respectively. For seniors, the estimates are even more favorable for Boone Countians (a reliable estimate was not available for the City of Columbia), of whom 5.2% were living in poverty compared to 9.3% of Missourians 65+ and 9.2% of all US seniors.

When you look just at families (that the bureau defines as 2 or more related folks), Columbia looks just like the rest of Missouri and US, with a poverty rate of about 11%.

But here’s the crux of it – and here’s what makes me skeptical of Mr. Rich’s lament – when we look at households with ‘unrelated persons’ (i.e., roommates), poverty in Columbia is almost twice as high, at 43.6%, than the rest of the state at 26%, and the quarter of Americans across the country.

So, what’s the story here… it’s not all about Mr. Rich’s “generational” poverty, it’s importantly about the “situational” poverty of this college town's disproportionate population of young adults.

(Report Comment)
Tracy Greever-Rice May 10, 2012 | 11:26 p.m.

Now let’s talk for a minute about the free and reduced lunch statistic - a factoid I've heard much hand-wringing over of late. It's certainly the indicator that sounds the worst on its surface in our local conversations.

In my work, I use administrative data all the time as “proxy” to describe the status of a variety of populations of Missourians, typically those at high risk for bad outcomes. The upside of using administrative data for analytical purposes is that its readily available and inexpensive because it has to be collected to run programs and deliver services. The downside is that because its analytical purpose is secondary, changes in administrative or business practices, public policy initiatives, and/or clinical and treatment practices can alter the meaning of the data in way that changes the outcomes AND meaning of the indicator. In other words, the value of a proxy indicator changes because what is being measured or how an indicator is being measured has changed, but potentially, not because the population being measured has changed (figuring that out is the "work" part of it).

Participation in the USDA Free & Reduced Lunch Price program has long been used by researchers, public policy makers, and child advocates as a proxy for child poverty. However, these groups today are very concerned that participation in this program is losing its 'proxy power' to describe poverty due to administrative and policy changes in the school lunch program (this is a national conversation – check out the Brookings Institute’s work and the Cato Institute's work among many others trying to understand this issue). Conversations about the decline in the face validity and reliability of this important proxy indicator has been going on for several years.

A lot of things are happening to destabilize this proxy indicator. Many educators and poverty advocates believe the school lunch program should be universal to avoid stigmatizing students in need and because, arguably, it might be less expensive to simply feed all kids than it is to pay for the administrative overhead of distinguishing between which students are qualified for which benefit (or not benefit at all).

And because school districts (particularly in Missouri) are locally controlled, districts vary widely in their values about these issues and that translates into more and less zealousness in qualifying students for the benefit. And the clencher... participation in the program brings dollars into districts... Districts respond differently to this incentive, inadvertently introducing uncertainty into the comparability of the proxy value of free and reduced lunch program participation between districts as a measure of poverty.

(Report Comment)
Tracy Greever-Rice May 10, 2012 | 11:28 p.m.

And, the indicator has been further vexed by the recession. There’s good historical evidence that people who normally would not feel comfortable using entitlement programs due to the perception of social stigma will use such programs during extreme economic downturns - particularly in hard hit communities (conversely, even if they qualify, they will discontinue use of the program when the economy picks up). Another part of the increase is explained by recent administrative requirements from the USDA that requires states to “pre” certify students via enrollment in other entitlement programs such as food stamps and TANF as well as foster care. By 2014, all states are supposed to be pre-qualifying 96-97% of their free/reduced lunch student population. Right now, Missouri has a $1 million grant to implement such a system. Thus, we can reasonably expect Missouri's free/reduced lunch rate to increase due to program compliance, which will unfortunately confound the proxy value of the indicator.

So, part of the increase in enrollment truly reflects an increase in child poverty, but part of it is an administrative ‘artifact’. And, quite frankly, continuing to use an indicator as a proxy for poverty with the knowledge that the change over time in the indicator is attributable to administrative and programming changes is a pretty cynical thing to do.

Plus, while Columbia’s rate is 43%, the state rate is even higher, 46.8% and the state rate has gone up more than the increase in Columbia.

(Report Comment)
Tracy Greever-Rice May 10, 2012 | 11:31 p.m.

This information is easily accessible – and quite frankly, while complicated, not that hard to understand with a little effort.

It seems like Mr. Rich et al should be very well aware of these nuances.

Ignoring the reality of Columbia’s complex and unusual poverty patterns costs us opportunities to make good policy that authentically improves people's life chances and allows us to use scarce public resources as effectively as possible.

Columbia has too many families struggling with the burdens of genuine poverty. Thus, when I run across folks who are satisfied with incomplete information and a willingness to tell big, shocking, simple stories rather than nuanced, complex, accurate stories, it makes me wonder who these folks are really most concerned about.

Of course we need to help folks without good jobs to get good jobs. But we truly need to understand who those folks are and what they need, and not just assume that what’s good for REDI investors will trickle down to those in need we claim we care about.

Data links:

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking May 11, 2012 | 3:17 a.m.

Tracy Greever-Rice wrote:

"when we look at households with ‘unrelated persons’ (i.e., roommates), poverty in Columbia is almost twice as high, at 43.6%, than the rest of the state at 26%, and the quarter of Americans across the country."

I suspect they are mostly college students who wouldn't be part of the free lunch program. They appear to be in poverty because they have other sources of income (loans, parents, their own savings) than wages.

Did you look at that statistic for other college towns? Iowa City might be a good one to start.


(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith May 11, 2012 | 5:38 a.m.

@ Tracy Greever-Rice:

Mark Foecking suggests comparison of Iowa City, Iowa (University of Iowa) with Columbia, Missouri (MU). A more interesting comparison might be to compare Madison, Wisconsin (University of Wisconsin - Madison) with BOTH Iowa City and Columbia. The population of Columbia lies BETWEEN the populations of the other two cities.

None of Iowa's state universities is located in what most of us would classify as a "large city" (Ames, Cedar Falls, Iowa City).

(Report Comment)
Tracy Greever-Rice May 11, 2012 | 7:21 a.m.

Mark, I never suggested that unrelated household members over the age of 18 would be using the free/reduced lunch program.

US Census Bureau American Community Survey estimates are wholly different measures than participation in the USDA free/reduced lunch program.

That both of these measures for CoMo are 43% is coincidence, and unlikely to be correlated coincidence.

That young people are "situationally" poor at the beginning of their adult earning career is pretty much a 'duh' observation. And we are a community with a disproportionately large population of young adults, which makes those looking not very deeply at the issue make incorrect assumptions. And then some of those with incorrect assumptions also act upon motivations that may be more or less pure.

In terms of the free/reduced lunch program, if it gives you any context, Columbia's F/RL rate is slightly lower than the state's rate, but the city of St. Louis' rate is closer to 80%.

If you're interested in child poverty (a pretty good proxy in and of itself for working poor families), check out the A.E. Casey's national Kids Count site.

(Report Comment)
Mike Martin May 11, 2012 | 10:26 a.m.

The problem of using student low income statistics to justify anti-poverty programs is a growing one, as this article about the Federal New Markets Tax Credit -- also at work here in Columbia, at the old Regency Hotel -- notes:

"The poverty profile reflects the large number of students who attend two schools -- Columbia College Chicago and Roosevelt University -- in the area, she says. Among families, the poverty rate is just 3.9 percent, according to the census....

“I wouldn’t say this is a needy tract by any means,” Smith says. “You have to make a distinction between family- level poverty and individual-level poverty. The problem with a subsidy program like this is that we give away money where we don’t really need to and usually in markets where development is already there.”

Since the article came from me -- an unwashed member of the misinformed masses -- I'll go ahead and apply the perfunctory 50% Kennedy Discount to it.

That way, it will count as only 50% -- rather than 100% -- indicative that we should reconsider tax incentive programs based on student "poverty" statistics.

(Report Comment)

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