Candidates avoiding the big issue of growth

Sunday, March 25, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 10:18 p.m. CDT, Thursday, July 17, 2008
Jeremy Lutz, bartender at Generic nightclub, demonstrates flair bartending by lighting martinis on fire. The trick is one of many he uses while mixing drinks. Generic owner Will McCaskill looks for bartenders who can perform.

Thank goodness Tiger teams have shuffled off the national stage and the Cardinals seem to have resolved their pitching problems. That frees us good citizens to pay attention to everything that’s on the local ballot April 3.

At the risk of appearing to be a shill for the home team, I will suggest that the best way to learn what you’ll need to know when you vote is to keep reading your Missourian. I was, and intended to be, critical of both Columbia newspapers in last week’s essay. Now that Scott Swafford and his reporting team have rolled out their coverage, though, I’m impressed.

The detailed articles on two must-pass ballot issues have explained the need for both the school bond and the increased library tax. The series of candidate profiles is telling me a lot I didn’t know about the hardy souls who are volunteering their services for the City Council. This is just the kind of public service journalism is supposed to perform.

I’m generally impressed, too, with the candidates. All six rightly resist the cockamamie idea of four or more lanes for the residential stretch of West Broadway. All seem appropriately open-minded about the possibility of expanding and even paying the council. All offer commendable track records of community service.

One disappointment remains. So far, both the press and the candidates are walking gingerly around the elephant in the room. I’m talking, of course, about growth.

We can infer from Karl Skala’s public statements and Jerry Wade’s work as chair of the Planning and Zoning Commission that both want the city to be smarter about the kinds of growth it encourages. We can’t be certain where Gary Kespohl and Mike Holden stand. We know that Mayor Hindman has talked a good game but hasn’t always walked the talk. John Clark has made clear that new residents should pay their own way, or most of it. None has emphasized the issue.

In the few days remaining before we vote, I hope the Missourian – and, because not every voter has the advantage of reading the morning paper, the rest of Columbia’s vast journalistic establishment — will get on the record all the candidates’ answers to the two questions that should shape our public policy:

What are the true costs of growth? Who should pay those costs?

The current council’s long-established policy is that growth is good, as long as everybody hooks up to the city sewers. We can always count on Donnie Stamper and his employers to make that case. The unstated, and often unacknowledged, reality is that the rest of us are subsidizing the developers. See, for example, the school bond and the library expansion.

So somebody should be asking what I define as the citizens’ questions. We need the answers if we are to make intelligent choices a week from Tuesday.

Asking is the journalists’ responsibility. Answering is the responsibility of the candidates. Time is running out.

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