5 Ideas: What people should be talking about

Sunday, July 29, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 3:55 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008


New Suit

A federal appeals court ruled that 17 former customers and employees of Dillard’s who brought lawsuits against the retail giant in 2003 deserve their day in court. The plaintiffs, mainly residents from in and around Columbia, allege that the chain’s Columbia Mall store systematically discriminated against black customers.

Among the allegations: Black customers were unfairly targeted by service staff and security guards who followed and watched them closely while they were in the store. But it doesn’t stop there.

Several former employees of the company admitted that they had to follow an “unwritten” policy of discrimination, which originated over a decade ago and included heightened surveillance and double standards on return policies.

An attorney representing the plaintiffs said the case harkens back to the kind of acts that sparked the Civil Rights movement. For more than a decade, dozens of similar complaints have been filed against Dillard’s in 12 states; two cases resulted judgments of close to $1 million against the store.

Do you think these allegations will influence people who like to shop at Dillard’s?


Katy Bridge

Last week, an appeals court shot down one of two lawsuits filed in the fight over the Katy Bridge. The issue at hand is who controls the now defunct, but picturesque, railroad bridge. The Union Pacific railroad company wants to scrap the whole thing and recycle its steel. However, two key figures are opposing these plans: the state’s Attorney General and a Sierra Club conservationist, who both claim that the Rails to Trails Agreement made the bridge part of the Katy Trail State Park. Supporters of saving the bridge say that its unique lift bridge design gives it historic value.

The appeals court upheld a 2006 ruling that said the state had no compelling interest in preserving the bridge. The court’s decision was handed down without comment. The bridge is not currently used by pedestrians or bicyclists — who use a nearby highway bridge — and the Natural Resources Department and preservationists estimate the cost of renovating the bridge to be between $6 million and $12 million.

What do you think should happen to the Katy Bridge?


Graffiti Wall

When city officials began putting names on the alleys a few months ago they were actually a little behind the curve. Graffiti “taggers” have been painting names and pictures on them for years.

Earlier this month Columbia police and public works officials tried to come up with solutions to the graffiti problem in the city, including the possibility of constructing a public wall for graffiti artists.

A few citizens who feel the graffiti is nothing more than gang activity or destruction of property have done much recently to spark discussion on the issue. But an online conversation among North Central Columbia residents suggests that many residents in that neighborhood are pro-graffiti. “There’s a value to nonsanctioned art,” said one resident. “Look at the Berlin Wall, pieces of it with graffiti sell for more than the non-graffiti.”

But many downtown business owners say it’s a crime no matter what. “I’m sure someone wouldn’t like someone coming into their house and spraying things,” said one owner.

What are your thoughts on graffiti? Is it a nuisance or a legitimate art form?


Park Drinking

The sale of alcohol in eight city parks — Columbia Cosmopolitan, Lake of the Woods, Twin Lakes, Stephens Lake, Nifong Memorial, Flat Branch and, only when the kids aren’t at school, Oakland and Cosmo-Bethel — won’t happen any time soon.

The Parks and Recreation Commission reviewed a draft of a policy last week that would have allowed the sale of alcohol in the parks, heard community objections, held a discussion and then unanimously rejected the proposal.

Commission members feared the policy would go against their efforts to reduce alcohol consumption among 12- to 25-year-olds.

The proposed plan would require that vendors undergo training that focuses on the recognition of fake IDs, signs of intoxication and preventing sales to minors.

Members of the commission acknowledged the safeguard measures but said they still weren’t enough. They are also worried that the consumption of alcohol in the parks would become too prevalent and jeopardize good, old-fashioned family fun in which children see grown-ups enjoying themselves without alcohol.

What do you think of the idea of selling alcohol in city parks?


Taxing Roads

A new sales tax for road improvements could ease the strain on the Public Works Department’s budget if voters approve it this fall. The tax could raise Boone County’s total sales tax to about 8 percent.

County commissioners recognize that voters will probably be wary of the increase, but they have been meeting with representatives from cities and towns across the county in order to figure out what kind of taxes would best fund local needs.

Of the possible $12 million coming in from the taxes in place this year, about half goes to fund road maintenance, which has become more expensive with the addition of new roads in the growing county.

Because of the faltering economic climate, officials believe it’s going to be a very difficult issue to pass. If voters reject the second tax, the county will continue to make due with what they have, but there will be fewer capital improvements and they will take longer to complete.

Are you willing to pay more in tax dollars to get better roads? Why or why not?

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