Five ideas: Major issues that have come up in the public discourse this past week

Friday, September 21, 2007 | 5:00 p.m. CDT; updated 11:26 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Filing for First Ward seat

Three, possibly four, candidates are running against three-term Councilwoman Almeta Crayton for the First Ward seat on the Columbia City Council. The number of candidates is a rarity, especially considering that the election is seven months away.

The candidates include incumbent Crayton, two-time mayoral candidate John G. Clark, Eastside Tavern owner Sal Nuccio and local activist Marlon Jordan. A fifth person, True/False film festival founder Paul Sturtz, said he’s “definitely exploring the idea of running.”

Each of the candidates appears to represent a different segment of the stakeholders in the First Ward. Crayton has historically been a voice for poor people and minorities, Clark has been involved with community activism and city government, Nuccio is a downtown small business owner, Jordan is an anti-racism activist and Sturtz is part of the city’s cultural scene.

For years, Crayton has faced criticism that she concentrates on minority issues at the expense of other interests. With so many candidates running, it seems a sea change is possible.

What does the First Ward race say about the interests in the neighborhood?

Activism over alcohol

For some, drinking and reading have long been accepted as key aspects of a well-rounded college experience. But reading about drinking? Not so much.

A new publication called The Booze News has faced rejection and a public outcry by students, wellness professionals and businesses in Columbia. It’s even getting thrown out of frat houses.

Students pointed to what they considered an offensive article in which issues such as sex changes, race and homosexual parents are ridiculed. MU health professionals voiced similar concerns, along with an additional complaint about the publication’s sensationalism of alcohol abuse.

In response to those concerns, the Booze News wrote a letter suggesting the concerned parties go get laid.

In what appears to be an effort to rout the paper from the city, students took their concerns to distributors. Chipotle, Shakespeare’s and Envy all distanced themselves from the publication.

It looks as though a controversial publication is being rejected on grounds of vulgarity on a campus where freedom of the press is a widely-taught value.

Does the public outcry against The Booze News fly in the face of respect for free speech?

Energy experiment

Columbia began harnessing the wind for energy early this month. The energy will be provided by Bluegrass Ridge and will contribute to the city’s effort to derive 2 percent of the city’s electricity from renewable sources by 2008.

Missouri has less wind than other states, but technology has finally enabled less windy states to make use of what they have. Still, there are some glitches in the wind energy plan.

It’s expensive. It costs up to three times as much as coal energy, making it about as expensive as natural gas.

Even if we’re willing to pay for wind energy, we still might not be able to get as much of it as we want whenever we want. There’s more wind in the winter than in summer, when we need the most energy.

Columbia is the first city in Missouri to buy wind energy, making Missouri one of 34 states to use it.

How do you think Columbia’s experience with wind energy will affect energy decisions statewide?

Open government

Republicans have filed a lawsuit to block the Missouri Ethics Commission requirement that candidates refund millions of dollars in campaign contributions collected in excess of the state’s recently imposed limits.

Republicans claim that the commission violated the Missouri Sunshine Law by discussing the campaign finance issue in a closed meeting, and they are seeking a temporary restraining order to keep the commission from implementing the refunds.

At least one Republican has said this rare and seemingly sudden concern about open government has nothing to do with looming campaign money refunds.

“In my belief, the Missouri Ethics Commission, which is supposed to be the standard-bearer for ethics, need to be transparent in its decision-making process,” said Rep. Shane Schoeller, R-Willard, a plaintiff in the suit. “For me, it’s the principle that we need to be transparent in everything we do in government.”

Lawmakers are demanding open government law enforcement regardless of personal interests. Perhaps journalists and interested citizens can look forward to even more support from these lawmakers in future battles for public records.

How do you think the lawsuit against the Missouri Ethics Commission reflects the lawmakers’ interest in enforcing open government laws?

Sites for new school

A sixth site was added this week to the list of possible locations for Columbia’s new high school, despite being submitted after the submission deadline.

In addition to the Bass property, the list of possible sites includes: Vemer property, Richland Road property, Godas property, Payne property and St. Charles Road Development property.

Each site has strengths and weaknesses, so public debate about what residents feel is most important in a site is important. When considering a site for the new school, cost, infrastructure and location must be taken into consideration, along with the cost of both public and private transportation for students.

A decision must be made soon if the project is to stay on schedule for a fall 2010 opening, but the decision must also be made carefully, as it will impact the community for years to come. To some, the addition of a sixth site after the deadline is evidence of a healthy public commitment to carefully making decisions.

Which site do you think is best for the high school and why?

— Morgan Cook

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