New City Council members could shift emphasis on policies

Wednesday, April 3, 2013 | 8:19 p.m. CDT; updated 7:14 a.m. CDT, Thursday, April 4, 2013

COLUMBIA — Second Ward Councilman Michael Trapp counts Karl Skala and Ian Thomas as close friends. When he was an aspiring politician, then-Third Ward Councilman Skala showed him around and introduced him to local leaders.

On Tuesday night, Skala won back the Third Ward seat he lost to Gary Kespohl in 2010, and Ian Thomas defeated Daryl Dudley to become Fourth Ward councilman. The three of them, Trapp said, have similar concerns, such as scrutinizing the cost of new development and making Columbia friendlier to pedestrians and cyclists.

Many local leaders agree that Tuesday's elections could shift the council's policies. Skala and Thomas tend to be more cautious about the public costs of development than Dudley and Kespohl.

"One group emphasizes economic development, and the other emphasizes neighborhood life and protecting the environment," Trapp said.

Trapp pointed out that the ideological differences between the groups are mild.

"It's a slight shift. They want to protect neighborhood life as well," he said of Dudley and Kespohl. "It's just slightly different priorities."

Mayor Bob McDavid also played down the split between the groups but acknowledged their different perspectives on economic development.

"There's always a tension in how much regulation and restriction," McDavid said.

Thomas and Skala have voiced some support for development and business incentives, but emphasize caution. Skala has advocated basing development fees on intensity of use rather than square footage, which he said would more fairly spread the costs of infrastructure made necessary by development.

He criticized the city's negotiations with IBM in 2010 as leaving many "in the dark," including the City Council. He hopes to increase transparency when it comes to economic development.

"What I didn't like about the whole process was the extent of the confidentiality," he said.

He also expressed concern that incentive packages may alienate local businesses, adding that the council should focus on helping businesses already in Columbia.

Thomas said he worried that some development has "burdened the city with unsustainable infrastructure and maintenance costs."

Kespohl, after learning of his defeat at his Tuesday night watch party, criticized Skala's views.

"I'm afraid for Columbia now because of what Skala wants to do," Kespohl said. "He may drive development completely out of Columbia."

McDavid seems comfortable with both groups. Kespohl and Dudley visited his watch party Tuesday evening after learning of their defeats, and he exchanged text messages with Thomas on Wednesday.

"He signed it 'Cheers!' as he always does," McDavid said.

Skala said he wasn't sure what direction the new council would take but that he doesn't envision any major problems in working with the other winners of Tuesday's election. He has known McDavid for around 30 years and has collaborated with Thomas on several projects, he said. He also has experience working with councilwomen Laura Nauser of the Fifth Ward and Barbara Hoppe of the Sixth Ward.

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.

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Dave Overfelt April 4, 2013 | 7:05 a.m.

I find it hard to believe that the new batch is going to do anything different than the old. We still have way too many boards and commissions staffed with angry people that don't fulfill their charge, we still need to update planning code and we still have tons of plans developed by professionals and the community that just sit on a shelf so the Council can do whatever it wants. Council hasn't done much of use since I started paying attention 10 or 15 years ago, instead, our council people seek to impress their various constituencies with boisterous talk blaming city staff for anything that doesn't go their way. Clearly, it works for COMO voters but I don't buy that these folks will be substantially different from the last.

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