Five Ideas

What people should be talking about
Sunday, May 20, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 4:23 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

[1] Battered bridges

Nearly 20 percent of Boone County’s 327 highway bridges are rated deficient, according to the Federal Highway Administration’s National Bridge Inventory. Another 20 bridges are considered in serious or poor condition because of ragged decks, rusty I-beams or poor traffic-management features.

Many of the worst bridges have been in poor condition for the past five years. The state has allocated more than $1.94 billion over the past 10 years to maintain bridges across the state, but nearly one in three Missouri bridges is rated deficient.

The Transportation Department launched a program this year to rehabilitate or replace 802 bridges by 2012 and maintain those structures until 2025. The program targets 14 bridges in Boone County, where 71 bridges are considered “functionally obsolete.” The county plans to spend about $1.5 million to rehabilitate eight smaller bridges.

Some experts say that bridge maintenance is a lower priority than other road projects. Missouri ranks first in the Midwest in the number of highway miles it maintains but last in the amount of revenue its highways generate.

How can Missouri generate more revenue to maintain its bridges?

[2] Chasing a raise

Question: Use the information below to find how much of a raise the Columbia Board of Education gave Superintendent Phyllis Chase last week.

Phyllis got $143,000 greenbacks in 2003-2004.

Phyllis got $190,000 greenbacks last year.

Phyllis will get $200,340 greenbacks next year.

Answer: Phyllis got a 5 percent raise in greenbacks.

For the first time, the board held part of the deliberations over Chase’s pay in public. The open discussion only considered how her salary compares to that of other superintendents in comparable districts around the state, however. The board met in closed session earlier in the week to talk about Chase’s actual performance.

Chase, who this year spent a few minutes in every classroom in the district, is considered a good communicator. One of her achievements was the formation of the Columbia Public Schools Achievement Gap Task Force, a group whose goal is to reduce the achievement gap among groups of students.

How would you rate Phyllis Chase’s accomplishments as superintendent?

[3] Gangs vs. Groups

Does Columbia have a problem with gangs? Or is Columbia merely home to “groups” of young people who engage in illicit behavior?

It depends on whom you ask. The April 18 shooting death of Tedarrian Robinson, 17, and other violent crimes have raised the specter of gang-related activity in Columbia, much to the chagrin of some city officials who fear it could hurt Columbia’s image.

Despite the rise in drive-by shootings, cocaine busts and suspicious-looking graffiti in the past five years, police are hesitant to say the trends are the result of more gang-related activity. Police Chief Randy Boehm has said that based on a technical definition — a group of people who work together to commit crimes — Columbia has gangs. But he says Columbia’s gangs are small and loosely organized, unlike big-city posses, like L.A.’s infamous Crips and Bloods.

Boone County Prosecutor Dan Knight uses a more fundamental definition of gangs: “groups of people who have gotten together with the purpose of committing crime.”

“Under my definition,” he said, “I think that would be a gang.”

Why do you think this discussion is important?

[4] President Hulshof?

The University of Missouri Board of Curators Presidential Search Committee was in Columbia on Friday meeting in closed session as it continues looking for a replacement for the departed Elson Floyd.

Meanwhile, The Associated Press reported earlier in the week that Rep. Kenny Hulshof did not respond to numerous phone calls and e-mails attempting to pin him down on rumors that he could become the next system president. The speculation was fueled by the resignation of Hulshof’s long-time chief of staff, the AP reported.

Hulshof gave the commencement address to graduates of MU’s School of Health Sciences last weekend, appearing on the same dais as Curator Doug Russell, head of the state Republican Party. Hulshof, who has represented Missouri’s 9th District since 1996, was re-elected last year with 61 percent of the vote. He is a former special prosecutor with the Missouri Attorney General’s Office and holds a degree from MU in agriculture economics.

Curators have said they want the next system president to be a CEO type with a strong allegiance to the UM System.

Would Kenny Hulshof be a good choice to lead UM? Why or why not?

[5] A sudden death

The Rev. Jerry Falwell died last week at the age of 73.

In 1979, Falwell founded the Moral Majority, bringing conservative politics to the pulpit and vice versa. Falwell and his allies launched a culture war against “liberals,” abortion-rights supporters, the ACLU and gay rights activists, helping create a movement that, today, forms the core of the Republican Party.

Falwell didn’t always do well by his cause or himself. He blamed gays, feminists and “abortionists” for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, saying they were the primary force in the secularization of America. Then there was the time he warned parents that a cartoon character — Tinky Winky of the “Teletubbies” — was a gay role model and a moral threat to children.

Falwell’s lasting legacy will be Liberty University, a 7,700-student institution in Lynchburg, Va., that reflects the founder’s belief in Christ’s inevitable return. The school is known for turning out young Christian graduates who are politically active and socially conservative.

What did you think of Jerry Falwell?

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