Keep Columbia Free focuses on EEZ vote in recall effort of First Ward councilman

Thursday, May 31, 2012 | 4:56 p.m. CDT; updated 10:08 p.m. CDT, Thursday, May 31, 2012

COLUMBIA — Keep Columbia Free plans to focus recall efforts on First Ward Councilman Fred Schmidt.

The group announced before the previous Columbia City Council meeting that it would work to recall any council member who voted in favor of re-establishing the Enhanced Enterprise Zone Board. The council voted unanimously in favor of the resolution

"We're a citizen group, and as such, we have limited resources," said Mitch Richards, treasurer of the group. "We don’t have the deep pockets of REDI. We’re doing the best we can with the resources we have."

Mark Flakne, president of Keep Columbia Free, said the response from First Ward residents interested in the recall petition was strongest among all the wards. He said while residents had a "laundry list" of reasons to recall Schmidt, the petition will focus solely on his votes in support of the enhanced enterprise zone.

"Our recall petition is going to focus on the EEZ, although the other issues may become talking points in the campaign," Flakne said.

The City Charter requires signatures from registered voters that represents 30 percent of vote totals in the most recent ward election. There were 1,000 votes cast in the most recent First Ward council election, which means exactly 300 signatures of registered First Ward voters will be needed to initiate a recall election.

That’s the lowest number of signatures for any of the four council members who can be recalled. Council members Barbara Hoppe and Michael Trapp cannot be recalled because they were elected less than six months ago.

Flakne said the number of signatures did not play a role in targeting Schmidt. He said no decision has been made on whether to pursue the recall of other council members.

Schmidt was on vacation and could not be reached for comment.

"It depends how long it takes us," Flakne said. “We are assessing the rest of them right now, but we haven’t received as much interest from the other wards.”

Richards ran for the First Ward council seat in 2011 but has said he will not be running in the recall election if the petition is successful.

"We just decided it would pose a conflict of interest," Richards said. “It would alienate people, and they might think I was using it as a back door to get onto the council, and that's not our goal at all."

Flakne said the petition will be available for signature at the discussion with Greg LeRoy on the enhanced enterprise zone issue at 7 Thursday evening at the Columbia Public Library.

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Eileen Yager May 31, 2012 | 10:40 p.m.

The EEZ debate is only one part of what is a bigger story about economic development in Columbia and Boone County. Are EEZs, tax abatements and other business incentives the best path to economic development. REDI thinks so, but a lot of researchers believe that this model is counterproductive. Our elected officials and the public need to be educated about other economic development approaches and select the option best-suited to our community.

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking June 1, 2012 | 5:55 a.m.

I'm thinking that even if they get the signatures to have the election, that Fred would be reelected. He has done a good or better a job than anyone from this ward overall and it seems petty to initiate this over a relatively minor issue.

Missourian coverage on the EEZ issue has shown both its positve and negative effects are minor and controversial, and I think it's been underreported that few other communities have mounted any sort of organized opposition.

I think the debate should focus on whether it is better to codify tax incentives as the EEZ does, or to simply negotiate them on a case-by-case basis as we did with IBM. I point out that incentives for companies to expand to a particular area are a market like anything else, and the positive effects (new taxes, employment) of having a company expand to a city can outweigh the cost to taxpayers (and it's less of a true cost than it is lowered revenue over what it could have been - it's still an overall increase). Remember, if the company decides not to expand to an area, the community gets *nothing* new. Granting of incentives by governments is likely to be part of attracting business to an area with or without the EEZ.


(Report Comment)
Liz Mitchell June 4, 2012 | 9:23 a.m.

The First Ward is probably more sensitive to the blight issue than the other 5 because such tactics were used to dismantle the predominantly African American neighborhood in downtown Columbia area where the Tribune now resides. Recent First Ward neighborhood "improvements" have seen houses torn down instead of being repaired and old growth shade trees unnecessarily destroyed, too. Now long term residents have student occupied condos (short term residents) as neighbors. We get to enjoy noisy, alcohol fueled parties going on late into the night and broken glass strewn on our streets. These condos are the real blight, although their pro-development proponents sell them as improvement.

(Report Comment)
Mike Martin June 4, 2012 | 11:39 a.m.

There's a lot more that's gone on with Mr. Schmidt beyond the EEZ/Blight Decree issue, and it's not just that single issue motivating the recall. Keep Columbia Free (KCF) laid most of this out, first in the interview below, and later in a press release.

Past recall efforts -- of 5th Ward Councilman Chester Edwards; Mayor Rodney Smith; First Ward Councilwoman Almeta Crayton; and 4th Ward Councilman Daryl Dudley -- were motivated by similar policy issues that opponents labeled "petty" or trivial then, too.

As I understand it, another more serious controversy may be brewing with Mr. Schmidt that has nothing to do with KCF, though details about it remain unconfirmed.

(Report Comment)
David Sautner June 4, 2012 | 1:47 p.m.

The fact that Francis Quadrangle was a part of the original EEZ blight domain is kind of mind-boggling.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith June 4, 2012 | 3:40 p.m.

Columns need replacing? How about something in granite? It would last far longer than than limestone.

(Report Comment)

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