COLUMBIA – The Downtown Leadership Council plans to ask City Manager Mike Matthes to explain and apologize for statements made regarding the severity of the downtown infrastructure problem.
The Columbia City Council asked the downtown council to address public image and trust issues surrounding downtown development. Matthes' public apology will be the downtown council's primary recommendation when it issues its report on how to restore public confidence in the city's planning process, downtown leadership Commissioner Brian Treece said.
"The city manager should clarify, retract and apologize for statements made in December," Treece said during a Wednesday meeting of the Downtown Leadership Council's Infrastructure Subcommittee.
Matthes has not responded to Missourian requests for comment since the meeting.
In a pair of Columbia Daily Tribune articles on Dec. 7, one in the regular news section and one in its Saturday Business publication, Matthes said no new projects could open downtown until the city upgrades its infrastructure. Matthes, who was advocating the creation of a tax-increment financing district to generate money for more infrastructure, said at the time that the city lacked the electric and sewer capacity to accommodate newly proposed projects and the city would need more money to fix the problem.
Between November and February, Treece said, Matthes made several statements about central city infrastructure lacking additional capacity and the city being unable to approve new projects. Those statements confused the public when housing projects were approved for downtown in March, he said.
"At what point was the city being straight? And at what point were they trying to coerce something that they wanted?" downtown leadership Commissioner Brent Gardner said at the Wednesday meeting.
City Council members are divided on whether an apology and clarification are necessary.
Fourth Ward Councilman Ian Thomas said there was certainly "a disconnect" between Matthes' statements in December and staff action in March, when three development agreements for downtown projects were brought to the council.
"I think it would help things a lot if (Matthes) would make some kind of clarification about that disconnect," Thomas said.
Second Ward Councilman Michael Trapp disagreed.
"I think there's definitely been a disconnect, but I don't see how demanding an apology moves us forward," he said.
Trapp said the situation changed between the time Matthes made his statements in December and when development action was brought before council in March.
"These issues are complicated, and to oversimplify it like this does not move us any closer to a solution," he said. "I see no need for an apology."
Although this will be the first formal request for an apology, Matthes has been asked by several members of the downtown council to clarify his statements, Gardner said. Commissioners said they are aware of at least three instances in which Matthes has been asked privately to clarify or apologize.
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