Integrity in the Fifth Ward

After viewing Tootie Burns’s new television commercial (above) I was struck by her comments regarding “integrity,” specifically, her own. I contacted, or attempted to contact, the 5th Ward candidates for a comment on the subject of integrity in relation to the City Council Race in the 5th Ward.

I received a written response from Tootie, Laura Nauser gave me a call, and I’ve heard nothing from Mark Jones.

The silence from the Jones camp comes as no surprise since Keep Columbia Free broke a story questioning his integrity – a story that was subsequently picked up by local media outlets. Not only is Jones an NEA union boss and Jefferson City lobbyist, he was fined thousands of dollars and his Democrat campaign committee was fined tens of thousands of dollars for filing false MEC reports and commingling funds. It’s no wonder he doesn’t want to talk about integrity.

Tootie Burns was the first to respond. In her timely, email response, Tootie said…

“Honesty and integrity should be the first qualification for public office.  Anyone who knows me knows that I value my integrity more than any association with a party or organization. As the ad said, that really is who I am.  To my knowledge, no one has ever questioned my integrity.
I have run a positive campaign focusing on my role as the voice of Fifth Ward neighborhoods.  Despite repeated requests for comment about my opponents’ records, I have intentionally chosen instead to talk positively about what I will bring to the Council.”

Since “no one has ever questioned” Tootie’s integrity, I guess I’ll be the first.

Let’s face the facts. Watch her video again. It’s obvious that this video is a veiled attack on Mark Jones. He’s a Jeff City lobbyist who is beholden to special interests and is using this race as a stepping stone to higher office. Not exactly the “positive” message she claims in her email, right?. But that’s only the tip of the integrity iceberg.

In the video, when she gets to the bit about her integrity, I couldn’t help but think that she is responding to an attack on her own integrity. She almost seems defensive. Maybe this was just a “not-so-positive” attack on Mark Jones — or maybe not.

Let’s take a look at the proposed Providence improvements that will affect the Grasslands neighborhood. Mark Jones and Laura Nauser have this one right.

Jones’s mantra regarding Grasslands has been, “We’re looking for a $7 million solution to a $1 million problem.”  A polished soundbite from a professional politician who probably has no business delving into local council politics, but true nonetheless. There are plenty of cheaper solution to this problem, solutions that were passed over at the urging of some of the influential residents of the Grasslands neighborhood, including Tootie Burns. More on that later.

Jones

Mark Jones

Nauser agrees with Jones on this subject, although her experience on the council dealing with road improvements leads her to take a more conservative approach to the actual cost of making the changes to Providence. She concedes that the improvements would at least cost “a couple million dollars,” but should be no where near the current $7,000,000 price tag. That doesn’t make as memorable a soundbite as Jones’s 1 to 7 comparison, but God bless her for keeping it real.

Nauser asks “where is the money?”

“The council has rushed this Grasslands project like they are handing out ice cream cones. This is seven million dollars of tax money being spent on road improvements for the Grasslands. There are several other 5th Ward road projects that could use some of that money. I’m not suggesting that the Stadium improvements are not important, but if the council is handing out ice cream cones, they shouldn’t all go to the Grasslands neighborhood.”

Nauser

Laura Nauser

Nauser went on, impressing me with her knowledge of 5th Ward road infrastructure concerns, talking about the problems on Forum at Wilson’s Fitness, Scott Blvd. phases 2 and 3, Nifong and Vawter at Old Mill Creek and Sinclair, and the list goes on.

So why is Tootie tooting for $7,000,000 to be spent on the Grasslands project? Well… she lives there.

She lives there, her in-laws live there and have for years, and Tootie Burns is the longtime board secretary of the Grasslands Neighborhood Association. A good portion of the $7,000,000 – of our hard earned tax dollars – for this project will be spent purchasing Grasslands properties. Some of the property purchased by the government at fair market value (some of the highest in town) belongs to Tootie’s in-laws. Most of the properties slated for purchase and demolition are beautiful old homes that have, much to the chagrin of “some” Grasslands homeowners, been converted to rental properties. Rumor has it that some influential folks in the Grasslands want to be rid of these rental properties and they want the taxpayer to fit the bill.

From the Columbia Daily Tribune:

While Jones mentioned the project several times throughout the forum, Burns did not address Jones’ remarks during the forum. In an interview after the forum, she said she voted in favor of the project when the matter was put before the Grasslands Neighborhood Association, because it could potentially ease congestion at one of the city’s busiest intersections and could improve pedestrian safety along the roadway.

“I don’t want to have a student get killed” trying to cross Providence, Burns said. She said that the second phase of the project could result in a portion of her mother-in-law’s property at the corner of Providence and Stadium being taken for right of way.

So it’s for the children… well… not so much. There is already a stoplight at Rollins and Providence where students can cross in relative safety, although many are too lazy to walk two blocks to use it. It’s not about the safety, it’s about bulldozing beautiful old homes that have fallen into the hands owners who have chosen to rent them to students.

Tootie

Tootie Burns

Tootie does admit that the sale of the Niedermeyer should not be stopped because there are no legitimate laws to prevent it, but she certainly laments the loss of this historic building.

From Tootie’s campaign Facebook page:

tootie fb neidermeyer

So what should “our priorities as a City” be regarding the beautiful old homes in the Grasslands neighborhood? What should “our priorities as a City” be regarding dropping $7,000,000 of taxpayer money on a wasteful project at the behest of Tootie and her Grasslands friends instead of funding other road improvements across our city? What should “our priorities as a City” be when spending millions of dollars of other people’s money? Should “our priorities as a City” and SEVEN MILLION DOLLARS of road infrastructure money be directed by single-issue, neighborhood politics?

It seems to me that we need to find someone with integrity to answer these questions. Tootie obviously doesn’t fit the bill.

Here is a much cheaper fix for the left turns out of the Grasslands neighborhood. Build a couple of short streets, one across the Phi Psi lawn to the existing Rollins light and one from the end of Brandon to the existing light at the A.L. Gustin Golf Course. There is no need for a new light. If Providence must be widened, take 5 or 6 feet of lawn from both sides of the road and widen it. $2 million ought to cover that.

The Keep Columbia Free Plan

The Keep Columbia Free Plan

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