Supporting MU would help city’s economy

Sunday, July 29, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 9:20 a.m. CDT, Thursday, July 10, 2008
Kennedy is a professor emeritus at the MU School of Journalism.

Columbia- When Donnie Stamper was a public servant, I voted for him more than once. These days, I’m afraid he’s becoming a public scold. As you may have seen in the Missourian, he has even taken to lecturing the City Council on the disturbing state of Columbia’s economy and the council’s duties in that regard.

Speaking for his paymasters in the business that likes to be called the “development community,” Donnie expressed dismay that council members haven’t put a higher priority on economic development.

By sheerest coincidence, our new Fourth Ward councilman, Jerry Wade, was on KFRU the day after Donnie’s discourse. He offered his own set of priorities for the council. The first, he said, is reconsidering how to pay the costs of development. (I’d add that those costs are now borne disproportionately by the taxpayers of city, county and school district.) Second, he said, is attention to the maintenance of public facilities, streets and other infrastructure. Third is addressing the needs of the poor and disabled.

Those of us who aren’t paying Donnie’s salary should prefer Jerry’s list. For one thing, it’s a better fit with the legitimate role of city government. The primary responsibility of the City Council and its employees is the welfare of the city’s residents. We’d all be better off now, and in the future, if we didn’t have to foot more than our fair share of the bill for the overcrowded streets and schools and for the hideously expensive expansions of sewers, water and electrical supplies imposed on us by Donnie’s constituents.

To return to an old theme, the biggest engine driving Columbia’s economy is the university. When it suffers, we all suffer. Anybody who’s worried about the economic health of the city would do better to direct lobbying efforts to the legislature and the governor, and maybe even the UM Board of Curators.

The university and the community that depends on it would benefit from more full-time faculty instead of the positions that will be left vacant as the budget is “reallocated” over the next several years. And think of the ripple effect on Columbia’s economy if all the thousands of university employees who aren’t faculty — the maintenance people, the cooks, the gardeners, the janitors and such — were to get a decent raise. When was the last time that happened?

Thanks to Donnie’s developers, the housing market is overbuilt, so it’s no surprise to hear them pre-emptively crying hard times. They’re intent on heading off any effort by Jerry, Karl Skala and the new council majority to do some long overdue cost shifting. If we were developers, that’s what we’d be doing, too.

But we’re not, most of us. We’re the rest of Columbia, the victims rather than the beneficiaries of not-so-smart growth. We’re the ones who should be cheering Jerry on.

That’s my last word on this or any other subject for a few weeks. I’m giving myself, and you, the month of August off. With any luck, I’ll talk to you again in September. It’ll be football season and visioning season. Isn’t it great to have so much to look forward to?

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