You Need to Go Door-to-Door to be Sure You've Got Your Election Rigged
September 1, 2015 6:47 AM   Subscribe

Gerrymanders Miss One Person The City Council of Columbia Missouri recently created the Business Loop 70 Community Improvement District in the interest of raising taxes in that area to allow for improvement projects. The district boundaries were carefully created to exclude any actual residents of Columbia, giving the property owners the exclusive right to vote on property assessments. They almost got it.

The note "Henderson's residence" on the map indicates the home of University of Missouri student Jen Henderson, who, it turns out, is the only registered voter living within the Business Loop 70 CID. But because there is in fact at least one registered voter there, the law says the property owners don't get to vote. As a result, Jen Henderson, and Jen Henderson alone, will decide whether the sales tax passes.
posted by JoeZydeco (81 comments total) 70 users marked this as a favorite
 
This is a beautiful story. The sad part is that, if they hadn't missed Henderson, their would be no story and it would just be business as usual.
posted by 256 at 6:52 AM on September 1, 2015 [31 favorites]


Oh, I'm glad this got posted to the blue! This is local to me and I know the student who's involved. I'm so happy that she went public with this. The CID wanted to hush it up, pressure her to de-register her vote, and move along with their plans, but she's the one who went public.

I believe the Columbia downtown CID passed with votes from 23 residents, though the sales taxes affect everyone who shops or eats downtown.
posted by aabbbiee at 6:54 AM on September 1, 2015 [35 favorites]


This is awesome! Go henderson! Can she also do some citizen initiatives??
posted by chapps at 6:55 AM on September 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


You just know if you dig a bit, this is going to be even shittier and shittier. Here's the location on Google Maps. It sure looks like there are some other residences within the zone they've created. Perhaps they're zoned non-residential, but that doesn't of course mean a voter can't also live there.
posted by odinsdream at 6:57 AM on September 1, 2015


Yep, zoned commercial, so they just half-assed their research. You can't link to a zoom level, but you can find your way there by going to the Parkdale Plaza.
posted by odinsdream at 7:00 AM on September 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


IIRC there are other people living in the area but they're University of Missouri students registered to vote in their hometowns rather than Columbia.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 7:00 AM on September 1, 2015


No, it really was carefully drawn to eliminate residents. In fact, Henderson got through their web because she lives where she works, as the night attendant on a University-owned property.
posted by aabbbiee at 7:01 AM on September 1, 2015 [14 favorites]


It sure looks like there are some other residences within the zone they've created.

Are you referring to the homes along Parkade Ave? If you take a look at the map in the Loweringthebar article, you'll note that they conveniently formed the zone so as to exclude that side of Parkade Ave. So, any voters living in those homes are not in the district.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:02 AM on September 1, 2015


So much for the secret ballot, though. As the article notes, it's a good thing that the person they missed is an engaged citizen who doesn't seem bothered about having her opinions made public.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:02 AM on September 1, 2015 [4 favorites]


Interesting to see businesses actually trying to raise taxes when they are the beneficiaries of them.
posted by Artw at 7:03 AM on September 1, 2015 [30 favorites]


The property is owned by B-SIB, LLC, organized by Craig Van Matre.
posted by odinsdream at 7:04 AM on September 1, 2015


My city has one official city neighborhood with zero residents. It had a murder last year... So its murder rate is (aymptotically) infinite.
posted by miyabo at 7:04 AM on September 1, 2015 [75 favorites]


So, any voters living in those homes are not in the district.

Yeah, I see what you mean. Sneaky.
posted by odinsdream at 7:06 AM on September 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Gov. Nixon nominates Van Matre to serve on University of Missouri Board of Curators
Van Matre is president of the law firm of Van Matre, Harrison, Hollis, Pitzer & Taylor. His practice in Columbia, which he has operated since 1975, often deals with complex financial transactions.
...emphasis mine.
posted by odinsdream at 7:08 AM on September 1, 2015


I'm not sure why you're highlighting Craig Van Matre specifically; he only owns some of the property in the CID (notably Parkade Plaza, yes). Carrie Gartner is the executive director of the CID, for instance, and she's the one who's pressured the student to deregister her vote.
posted by aabbbiee at 7:11 AM on September 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


I really enjoy this story and like whenever it reappears somewhere in front of me.

I did read at least one article which suggested that the PROPERTY owners like the tax (note: why call it a half cent tax? I've never heard this terminology) but the BUSINESS owners do not all like it.
posted by jeather at 7:14 AM on September 1, 2015 [5 favorites]


It is a 0.5% tax, so a half cent per dollar.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 7:16 AM on September 1, 2015


This is pretty great. It's also pretty absurd that this is even legal. I know that fixing gerrymandering 100% would be hard, but even some basic constraints to prevent ridiculous concave polygons like this district would go a long, long way.
posted by tocts at 7:20 AM on September 1, 2015 [4 favorites]


aabbbiee: These things typically work out to be a pretty small web of well-connected rich white people deciding how to get whatever the fuck they want done, and adjust or ignore whatever rules are in their way. I'll be fucked if Craig isn't involved somehow.

I'd be glad if someone, like an actual journalist, would do some basic research into shit like this, you know, create the actual narrative telling the story of who is on this CID board, how it was formed, why they knew each other in the first place and decided they had the right to extract nearly a quarter million out of nearby residents without their permission. I'd love to hear that story.
posted by odinsdream at 7:21 AM on September 1, 2015 [20 favorites]


As of yesterday, the District Proponents are claiming they're now going to hold off on the vote, since I'm guessing, it seems highly unlikely Henderson will vote for their CID. Incidentally, the organization created to push it through has racked up quite a bit of debt, including, I think for the salary of Carrie Gartner, who was responsible for ensuring there were no registered voters within the zone.

It seems like half of Columbia is covered in CIDs, so I'm kind of surprised it's taken this long to jump onto the Business Loop corridor.
posted by Atreides at 7:22 AM on September 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


I mean, jesus, read this snippet from Carrie's LinkedIn page, but now consider her percentage support numbers if you first assume gerrymandering (e.g., disenfranchisement):
I successfully shepherded in a new Community Improvement District, taking members from brainstorming to planning to implementation. Member planning forums began in 2008 and a CID was unanimously supported by Council in February of 2011. This process lead to the consolidation of two, independently operating organizations and the total recasting of the mission of The District. Throughout this process, I was instrumental in the passage of not one but two new downtown assessments, despite the lagging economy. The CID property assessment passed with overwhelming support (71% assessed value and 58% per capita) and a new CID sales tax passed with 63% of the vote. As a result, revenues have increased by nearly 300%, finally allowing the organization to accomplish some key District improvement projects.
posted by odinsdream at 7:26 AM on September 1, 2015


I wonder if when someone with influence in university staffing will find a way to have Henderson fired or laid off, which I imagine would mean she loses her place to live. That could never happen, right?

(It's stories like this that set my hair on fire whenever I get into arguments with people who insist that strong voter ID laws are the most important way to protect voting rights and prevent fraud.)
posted by rtha at 7:29 AM on September 1, 2015 [16 favorites]


Well, it's a small town and of course Van Metre is involved. Everyone knows everyone here. I mentioned above the district CID that passed with only 23 residents; that's not irrelevant because guess who was involved with that passage? Carrie Gartner, that's who.

I'm not in any way defending any specific property owners, but I don't think it's a great idea to assuming who the members of the cabal are. I do think Business Loop 70 needs some upgrades, but absolutely not at the expense of low-income residents (who do walk to shop at businesses along this strip) without their approval.
posted by aabbbiee at 7:31 AM on September 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


aabbbiee: It really doesn't need to be seen as a cabal or a conspiracy. It's just basic facts that need to be explained. This is a pattern of systemic abuse that is repeated everywhere.
posted by odinsdream at 7:34 AM on September 1, 2015 [4 favorites]


It is a 0.5% tax, so a half cent per dollar.

I understand where the half cent came from, but I still don't get why you would use that term instead of the unambiguous percentage. Do you call things penny taxes or dime taxes?
posted by jeather at 7:36 AM on September 1, 2015


Well, we'd usually say "3 cent tax" but yes.

half cent tax
posted by Elementary Penguin at 7:39 AM on September 1, 2015


odinsdream: I absolutely agree with you, right up until the point where you're doxxing property owners that you assume are part of this. You find me a list of the members of the board of the CID, and Van Metre is on it, great, let's talk about his links to the University and let's discuss how a vote of property owners that includes a substantial amount of University property will be handled. Up until that point, though, you're just making assumptions.
posted by aabbbiee at 7:40 AM on September 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Well, we'd usually say "3 cent tax" but yes.

half cent tax


Interesting, the Canadian links in there are for half percent tax, so must be a dialect thing.
posted by jeather at 7:48 AM on September 1, 2015


I don't understand how a vote of property owners is handled at all. What if there are multiple owners? Do they get one vote, or each get one vote? How is that handled by the local government? Does anyone have experience with that?
posted by aabbbiee at 7:53 AM on September 1, 2015


The vote doesn't happen by ballot. They sit around a dark mahogany table and decide by count of lit cigars.
posted by thecjm at 8:01 AM on September 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


Two things stand out to me about this story. First, it's not the usual gerrymandering story of drawing district lines to break up a constituency and dilute it in territories with a majority of another constituency. Second is the City of London style government by vote of property owners. Are there many of these kinds of districts in the USA? I don't think I've heard of this before.
posted by 3urypteris at 8:01 AM on September 1, 2015


The part of this story that's bothered me the most is the fact that somehow in Missouri property owners get to vote, specifically, in the districts in which they hold property. It's not even an actual vote, but some sort of weird auxiliary vote that's overruled by residents. How is this even legal, in a modern democratic nation? Does each individual property owner get to vote, or does each property get a vote, and joint owners have to vote in a block? What kind of all-fired nonsense is this? It seems like goddamned feudalism to me. Voting is done by citizens, and citizens are those either born in the United States or naturalized here. Voting is not done by properties, property owners, business owners, or any other ridiculous medieval qualification. Good god.
posted by koeselitz at 8:01 AM on September 1, 2015 [44 favorites]


(And I guess I'm not the only one bothered by that.)
posted by koeselitz at 8:02 AM on September 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


So, what is a robber button?
posted by Sys Rq at 8:07 AM on September 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


Re the half-cent tax derail: the word "cent" is certainly a form of the word "percent," so the use of half-cent tax is perfectly sensible.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 8:11 AM on September 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Are there many of these kinds of districts in the USA? I don't think I've heard of this before.

Yup. They're fairly widespread, especially in urban areas. However, the taxes and assessments that can be levied under them vary from state to state/authorizing statute to authorizing statute.

In the city that I live in, CID's and their cousins are a mixed bag. On the one hand, developers have definitely tried to use them to bypass traditional development processes that give community residents more of a voice. On the other hand, our municipal government is broke as fuck. To this day, the city doesn't supply street sweeping, and in high-traffic areas, it's hard for individual property owners to keep up with the volume of litter that accumulates. Shit used to get ankle-deep in rotting fast food containers and plastic bags, and it was incredibly, disgustingly gross, especially when it rained, and all that litter would block up the sewer grates, which meant that pedestrian streets routinely flooded with a mix of rotting garbage and runoff.

Annnnnnnnd then, the CID-ish entity stepped in, levied a bunch of assessments, and used the money to hire a bunch of people whose main jobs are to walk around sweeping litter, and bought a bunch of those little golf carts with the vacuum tubes. Suddenly, it got a lot easier to convince business to pay a premium, both in terms of rents and city taxes, to have offices downtown again.
posted by joyceanmachine at 8:29 AM on September 1, 2015 [6 favorites]


Are there many of these kinds of districts in the USA?

The most interesting example I know is the Reedy Creek Improvement District, which is entirely on Walt Disney World property. It is controlled by landowners in the district, which are all senior Disney employees. It gets some of its powers from the cities of Bay Lake and Lake Buena Vista, which are also entirely within Walt Disney World, and populated entirely by the households of Disney employees. So these Disney employees vote every year to hand over powers in their "cities" to Reedy Creek, which is also controlled by Disney employees.

Disney got some of these powers by promising to build an actual city. But before they actually ended up letting other people live in the area, Disney deannexed what became Celebration, Florida so non-Disney people wouldn't have any influence over Reedy Creek.

Reedy Creek Improvement District (and the Cities of Bay Lake and Lake Buena Vista) exist entirely for the benefit of one for-profit corporation but it gets to act as a governmental body with governmental powers and tax benefits like the issue of tax-free municipal bonds.
posted by grouse at 8:33 AM on September 1, 2015 [16 favorites]


3urypteris: "Are there many of these kinds of districts in the USA?"

Oh God yes. They come was CIDs and CBDs and HRT districts and TIF districts. Some of them are declared by property owners; others by city councils. In all cases, the goal is to apply an extra property or sales tax JUST to a particular area and reinvest that money in that neighborhood.

Which is not universally a terrible idea -- let's say you want to update the infrastructure around your city's convention center, so you apply an extra quarter-cent sales tax to all hotels and restaurants and amusements in a defined area (HRT or HRA tax), and then that extra quarter-cent collected is only applied within the boundaries of the district, on sidewalks and streets and streetscaping and tourism signs and maybe some city-backed grants for property facade upgrades, kind of thing. Or they allow bonds to be taken out by the convention center for capital upgrades and paid off with that quarter-cent tax plus increased revenue from the capital upgrades. This places the burden of the extra tax to support the convention center area on the merchants who will benefit from the upgrades to that area.

The problems are, first, a VERY low percentage of these districts actually achieve their stated goals. You end up with HRTs that are supposed to end in 10 years when the bonds are paid off, but the convention center has to keep refinancing and 30 years later the center is still running the HRT, still trying to pay off the bonds, and still running an operating loss. (Because convention centers are a boondoggle, but I digress.) You end up with TIF districts that pay tons of money to bring merchants to the area, who stay for five years and then disappear again. In many cases, these districts socialize the risk of making improvements by property owners by putting taxpayers and the city on the hook if they don't pan out, while privatizing the profits if that gamble pays off.

Second, they NEVER EXPIRE. Well, sometimes they expire. But a TIF district, for example, is supposed to run for seven years, and then be renewed or not renewed for another seven. There are TIF districts that are past the 21-year mark in my city. They never reach their endpoint (because they don't work! The ones that "wind down" -- which is the proper term for them ending -- do so because the city more or less gives up and can't get enough votes to keep extending the TIF). So you end up with all these "special purpose limited taxing districts" that are supposed to be around for 7 or 10 or 15 years that just NEVER GO AWAY. The concept's been around about 30 years, and way, way more start up than ever wind down.

Third, schools are almost always excluded from the property tax-related ones. TIFs, in particular, are a way for merchants to capture rising land values to use for improvement of their own businesses without having to pay property taxes into schools -- which is half the property tax bill most places. Cities desperate to revitalize struggling neighborhoods slap TIFs on them and then exclude schools from all improvements, because obviously neighborhoods do GREAT at revitalizing when kids are going to school in an asbestos-riddled firetrap with 30 kids to a classroom and no chalkboards. EVERYONE wants to buy houses there!

Fourth, they now serve largely as a way to raise taxes without city council members having to take an unpopular vote to actually RAISE TAXES across the board (property or sales) or to prevent having to put a tax increase on the ballot where a referendum is required.

Fifth, they make sales tax HELLA COMPLICATED and a legitimate beef that Amazon had with the state of Illinois about collecting sales tax in Illinois is that within three miles of my house, I pay three different sales tax rates, and Amazon and other merchants by mail have to break it down literally address-by-address because we have so many special sales tax districts. For a while Lands End wouldn't ship here because of it; and there are a lot of merchants that require us to choose the proper drop-down for the address to which we are shipping for Peoria sales taxes, and warn us in big letters that we're on the hook if we get it wrong. (They make property taxes more complicated too, but that's the problem of the county assessor, not "every merchant in the US who ships by mail.")

If you look at this map of Peoria County -- Peoria the city is the slightly peachy area on the right -- you can see all the TIF districts that cover almost every commercial-zoned district in Peoria (the city), and nearly all high-value blocks in the downtown area. Those ALL pay less money into the failing Peoria school system than their property is taxed for. They ALL get tax value increases returned to the property owners in those areas. Basically none of them have achieved their goals, and some of them are in worse shape than they started (because, I argue, TIF districts do not actually help with development problems; although some of my good friends in local politics disagree and they are not dumb people; it's a contentious point). That map doesn't even capture all the special taxing districts -- just TIFs. The HRA tax area overlaps with multiple TIF districts, for example. You can see, looking at that map, how it's an attempt to manipulate property tax rates piecemeal without being accountable for actually changing the property tax rate. You bury it in a ton of jargon and hand it out to commercial property owners, and it's awfully hard to tell you're effectively lowering the tax rate on businesses and exempting some corporate properties from property tax increases, while either raising the tax rate dramatically on homeowners to make up for it or drastically decreasingly the quality of services in residential areas (like by, say, closing two firehouses that serve solely residential areas).

Feelings on special taxing districts: I has them.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:35 AM on September 1, 2015 [89 favorites]


Re the half-cent tax derail: the word "cent" is certainly a form of the word "percent," so the use of half-cent tax is perfectly sensible.

Given that both derive from centum, the latin word for 100, this shouldn't be surprising. See also "century", "centennial" and so forth.

US taxes will also be expressed in mills, 1/1000 of a US Dollar or 1/10th of a US cent, also derived from the Latin mille, one thousand, and thus millennium, millimeter, and so forth -- and the much rarer per mil as opposed to per cent -- but if someone writes 37‰, that's what they mean, 37 parts per thousand. You typically only see things like real estate taxes in mills, where you may have a 1 mill per dollar tax. A five mill per dollar tax would be our half cent tax. Funny enough, when used in property taxes, it's almost always spelled "mil", but officially as a currency, it's spelled "mill." I'll use the latter here.

And to derail this derail, that's three of the five defined US currencies mentioned -- the Mill, Cent and Dollar. The Other Two: The rare one is the no longer used as currency Eagle, worth $10, which was minted as a gold coin. It was rarely labeled as an Eagle, it was instead labeled as $20, $10 or $5 for the Double Eagle, Eagle and Half Eagle. (Nowadays, they're bullion coins, worth far more than the face value.) The Dollar, Half Dollar and Quarter Dollar, formerly made of silver, were labeled thusly, the Five Cent Nickel and One Cent Penny are labeled as Cents, but the fifth US currency is the oddball.

The other coin is the Dime, and it is, to this day, labeled as such -- One Dime. It's worth 1/10th dollar, or 10 cents. And thus the pattern:

Ten Mills to the Cent, ten Cents to the Dime, ten Dimes to the Dollar, ten Dollars to the Eagle.
posted by eriko at 8:39 AM on September 1, 2015 [21 favorites]


right up until the point where you're doxxing property owners that you assume are part of this.

This is hyperbolic. I did two simple searches that anyone can do, one to figure out who owns the property where Henderson is currently living (seems relevant), and the other to figure out who owns the business that resulted from the first search. Since it was the property owners that are involved in benefitting from this stunt that is absolutely relevant to what's going on.

Doxxing is posting personally-identifiable information with the intent to wage some kind of mob action against people. That's absolutely not what's going on. I didn't post anybody's home address or phone number, certainly didn't call for any actions against people, and it's ridiculously insulting to claim I'm doing that.

Pretending like this shit happens in isolation, without consider personal politics and well-connected individuals is absurd.
posted by odinsdream at 8:39 AM on September 1, 2015 [7 favorites]


Also, in case you're interested, I can't find any business filings for the supposed "The Loop, Como" business which Carrie Gartner supposedly works for, which is the organization supposedly running the CID in the first place. So, there's a shell game going on there, as well.
posted by odinsdream at 8:43 AM on September 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Re the half-cent tax derail: the word "cent" is certainly a form of the word "percent," so the use of half-cent tax is perfectly sensible.

I would argue that while "cent" in this situation is technically cromulent, the usage has a lot more to do with minimization than linguistics. A "half cent tax" sounds like nothing at all.

This is not far off from how, when politicians want to raise (for example) a sales tax from 5% to 6%, they describe it as an intentionally misleading "1 cent increase", as opposed to what it really is (a 20% increase in the tax rate).
posted by tocts at 8:59 AM on September 1, 2015


A "half cent tax" is less likely to be misread as a 5% tax by someone who missed the decimal point when it's written as .5%. Particularly in blurry newsprint.
posted by rewil at 9:10 AM on September 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


On the Mathmatical Association of America website, there is an interesting javascript applet that uses Voronoi tessellations to create fairly population-and-size equal districts. The map is of Washington state, but you'll get the idea. With the recent SC decision about independent redistricting commissions, perhaps this type of redistricting, via commission, would be a good thing to get on a ballot referendum in states where such a thing is easier (ie. de facto possible). Grassroots would be the only way something this logical would get implemented.
posted by eclectist at 9:17 AM on September 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Ms. Henderson might do well to request police protection.
posted by rhizome at 9:26 AM on September 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


" I absolutely agree with you, right up until the point where you're doxxing property owners that you assume are part of this."

It's bullshit to call community journalism "doxxing." She's looking up public records — this isn't tracking down someone's social security number or unlisted phone number to harass them. (That people were calling using restless_nomad's first name — listed in the FAQ — "doxxing" in a recent MeTa pissed me off too.)

If we went with a similar level of hyperbole, your use of "doxxing" is "trolling."

"Feelings on special taxing districts: I has them."

The SCOCA declared them unconstitutional here and it's been a giant fucking boondoggle getting them unwound. As far as I recall, they were something the governor hated so he was all sorry/not sorry about the ruling, and as part of it there's been a lot of discussion about what a mixed bag they were. I remember when I was writing about local politics in Ann Arbor that the DDA was where almost all of the momentous decisions on development got made, and it was a weird ancillary pseudo-democratic organ — luckily, it got my old boss (a semi-socialist former city council member) leading it, so it was actually a pretty progressive instrument a lot of the time, but definitely had dubious authority and kicked up a lot of college town drama.
posted by klangklangston at 9:27 AM on September 1, 2015 [4 favorites]


[Folks, let's drop the "is it doxxing" thing here? What's in the thread so far has seemed okay to me.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 9:30 AM on September 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Other useful citizen journalism questions: So we know who organized one of the companies that owns one of the properties, but who actually runs that company?

Who is paying the tax bills on these properties, and would benefit from this funding?

Does Carrie actually work for a real company, and does it have any other employees? What's her salary and how is it paid?

What other companies would benefit from this move? There are only a handful of properties within the CID, that list is going to be short.

What other properties do those companies own in the city, and how many of those other properties have already benefitted from similar moves? How much total income has this produced for how many people?

There's a reason this process was done the way it was, and it's certainly not the first time someone tried it; it's just the time they fucked up and made the news.
posted by odinsdream at 9:46 AM on September 1, 2015


I wonder if commerce at the high school would be exempted.
posted by rhizome at 9:51 AM on September 1, 2015


This whole thread, and other recent events, makes me think that democracy is unstable in the control theory or mathematical sense. Meaning that, over time, perturbations tend to shift government away from democracy (as in high school civics) and towards the authoritarian (big business, the wealthy, the church, the military, whatever). Thus you can't just let it sit; you've got to actively keep it democratic.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 10:00 AM on September 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


Updates from local media:
Lone Business Loop CID Voter Wants to Go Through With Election (Columbia Daily Tribune)
Limited options remain for future of Business Loop CID (Columbia Daily Tribune)
Sales tax vote for Business Loop CID postponed (Columbia Missourian)
Proposed sales tax election for Business Loop postponed (KMIZ ABC 17 News, has video)

Some media outlets have reported that Wendy Noren, Boone County Clerk, was involved with pressuring Henderson to de-register her vote, but Noren says that conversation was initiated by Henderson after Gartner "helpfully" provided her with the contact information. Noren was "frustrated Gartner contacted Henderson, and told Gartner multiple times to leave Henderson alone." (see first link)
posted by aabbbiee at 10:01 AM on September 1, 2015


Yes, democracy is inherently unstable. Was it Thomas Jefferson who advocated a revolution every generation or so?
posted by I-Write-Essays at 10:15 AM on September 1, 2015


A "half cent tax" is less likely to be misread as a 5% tax by someone who missed the decimal point when it's written as .5%. Particularly in blurry newsprint.

Yes. It's a good practice to always write such as 0.5%, it makes it clear that there should be a decimal there and it calls out to copyeditors and readers that there's likely to have been a mistake if they see something listed as 05%, since why the leading 0 unless there was a decimal there? Either there's a missing decimal, a missing leading number, or a typo for 95%, but it's clearly not meant to be 5%.

The other answer, of course, in the old days, would have been ½%.
posted by eriko at 10:15 AM on September 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


From the first Columbia Daily Tribune link:
In a letter sent at 9:51 p.m. Sunday to the district’s attorney, Robert Hollis, 23-year-old Jen Henderson said she is educating herself about the CID and is willing to listen to what board members have to say about passing a half-cent sales tax.
...I'll give you one guess whose law firm Robert Hollis works for.
posted by odinsdream at 10:15 AM on September 1, 2015


> The part of this story that's bothered me the most is the fact that somehow in Missouri property owners get to vote ...

Mitt Romney just splooged himself.
posted by benito.strauss at 10:18 AM on September 1, 2015


"This whole thread, and other recent events, makes me think that democracy is unstable in the control theory or mathematical sense. Meaning that, over time, perturbations tend to shift government away from democracy (as in high school civics) and towards the authoritarian (big business, the wealthy, the church, the military, whatever). Thus you can't just let it sit; you've got to actively keep it democratic."

This is a large part of Plato's Republic, and still a significant issue in democratic political theory. But literally, Plato's Republic describes the central flaw of democracy as the vacillating, immediate desires of the public. And contra I-Write-Essays, it's why we have a republic rather than a democracy — the Senate's obstructionist protocol are explicitly to moderate the assumed unstable excesses of the House. Jefferson favored a more democratic form, but was still an aristocrat at heart. Jackson's where we finally got the exultation of the common man, which Straussians would link directly to the genocide of indigenous nations.

More recently, the post-democratic movements of state communism and fascism (along with modern theocracy) have been the challenge for political theorists to think about, specifically how the instability of democracy makes it more vulnerable to exploitation by factions that oppose the very idea of a democratic project. (For further reading, Chantal Mouffe's writing about the role of institutions in mitigating that instability, and the possibility of using those institutions to create "zones of contention" without endangering the underlying democratic project, is pretty interesting.)
posted by klangklangston at 10:32 AM on September 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


She said Gartner initially approached her in June to explain the goals of the CID and ask her to consider "unregistering her vote" so the property owners could make the decision. The more she researched the situation, Henderson said, things "just didn’t seem to be as good as they were saying to me at first."

This woman is awesome. Doubly so because I've read all the bits of the interview with her that were quoted in the original Tribune article, and I still can't tell if she's just carefully weighing pros and cons, or if she has figured out that she has accidentally fallen into the greatest trolling opportunity of the 21st century. If this were me, I'd be holding press conferences where I stroked my chin thoughtfully while speaking off the cuff about what shitlords the property owners and their city hall lackeys are, and maybe casually mentioning the gerrymandering decision that came out of the last SCOTUS session. I can only hope Ms. Henderson has plotted a similar course to lulz.
posted by Mayor West at 10:40 AM on September 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Wasn't there a Kevin Costner movie about something like this?
posted by rhizome at 10:45 AM on September 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


There's a vaguely similar Asimov short story.
posted by Chrysostom at 11:05 AM on September 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


To this day, the city doesn't supply street sweeping, and in high-traffic areas, it's hard for individual property owners to keep up with the volume of litter that accumulates. Shit used to get ankle-deep in rotting fast food containers and plastic bags, and it was incredibly, disgustingly gross, especially when it rained, and all that litter would block up the sewer grates, which meant that pedestrian streets routinely flooded with a mix of rotting garbage and runoff.

I'm a huge fan of governments providing services for the common good (though not necessarily for the good of a few select businesses) and I'm perfectly happy to pay taxes to make it happen.

But I think thus misses the point. Sweeping the street is a crappy method for keeping the street clean. The better method is "don't throw your garbage in the street." Start ticketing the litterbugs and the streets will get cleaner right quick and the funds from the litterbugs can fund the cleaning of litter from whatever few scofflaws remain.

Seriously. WTF? Why is there garbage in the streets?
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 11:32 AM on September 1, 2015


Seriously. WTF? Why is there garbage in the streets?

Because people don't give a crap and weren't raised to give a crap or were poorly raised to give a crap. Next question?

What other companies would benefit from this move? There are only a handful of properties within the CID, that list is going to be short.

Well, it appears that Dave Biggs Griggs Flooring America is one.

Columbia is entangled in a vicious web of a small number of property owners/developers who are currently dictating everything from its spread southward to the proliferation of off campus student housing and increasingly high leases downtown. I'm sure they have their toes in virtually every CID request.
posted by Atreides at 11:49 AM on September 1, 2015


Start ticketing the litterbugs and the streets will get cleaner right quick

Even though my personal preference for a punishment for littering is to have whatever the offender has dropped magically inserted into their rectum, and if it's still on fire, so fucking be it -- the problem with stepping up enforcement for small-scale offenses is that they're almost always unevenly enforced. Usually against minorities and poor people who can't afford the fines.

So I'm really thinking magic is the answer, given that public shaming of litterers is probably too dangerous to attempt.
posted by asperity at 11:56 AM on September 1, 2015


"But I think thus misses the point. Sweeping the street is a crappy method for keeping the street clean. The better method is "don't throw your garbage in the street." Start ticketing the litterbugs and the streets will get cleaner right quick and the funds from the litterbugs can fund the cleaning of litter from whatever few scofflaws remain."

Not really. Catching litterbugs effectively would take a tremendous amount of law enforcement presence pretty much around the clock; sweeping streets takes a couple of maintenance workers a couple hours once a week do a good enough job.

I will say that every time I visit Seoul, I'm tripped out by their solution: Paying retirees by the pound to come along and pick up trash. There are basically zero trash cans anywhere (the mayor thought they made the city look dirty), and so people "litter" but arrange their litter into small, easily scooped piles because, you know, if your grandmother was picking up litter in order to feel like she was still contributing to the community, you wouldn't want her to find a great big mess.
posted by klangklangston at 12:05 PM on September 1, 2015 [17 favorites]


Why is there garbage in the streets?

Because people? I mean, litterbugs annoy me a lot to the point where, despite being a tiny non-white lady, I have eye-fucked people into picking up their litter from city sidewalks.

But stuff happens. Sometimes, a plastic wrapper falls out of your bag and you don't know. Sometimes, napkins blow away. Sometimes, the municipal trash cans fill up between pick-ups, and you aren't allowed to get on public transit with an open container of food in your hands, and putting the dirty trash in your purse isn't an option, so you leave the Burger King bag by the trash can. Sometimes, a parent is wrangling four cranky kids after a long day of shopping, and just does not have the strength to pick up that damn french fry. Sometimes, you're looking at a transit map, realize that you aren't going to make the next train if you don't get a move on, so you dash away and accidentally leave the map on the ledge.

Sometimes, people have to live on the sidewalks. We have a fairly significant sidewalk homeless population in my city.

And I mean, yeah, some people are legit litterbugs who just toss shit onto the sidewalks, but even if they're only 1 in 1,000, add in all the randomness from daily urban life, and if 5,000 people pass a street corner every day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year and nobody sweeps it up ever except for the business owner trying to keep the area around the entrance clear, and none of it biodegrades, you're going to end up ankle-deep in trash.

Saying that if people were more responsible, we wouldn't need street sweeping is like saying WTF? Why do we need traffic lights, if people would just drive carefully at moderate speeds?
posted by joyceanmachine at 12:21 PM on September 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


Derail: littering is strongly associated with poverty (its a form of social disorder and is part of neighborhood effect) so fining poor people for it isn't the best method to achieve clean public spaces.
posted by zenon at 12:32 PM on September 1, 2015 [5 favorites]


I did two simple searches that anyone can do, one to figure out who owns the property where Henderson is currently living (seems relevant)

He doesn't own the property where she lives. She lives in the Eugenia Wyatt Guest House, which is owned by the University of Missouri and is on a parcel zoned as university campus.

However, that is interesting, since the parcel is owned by the university, I am guessing that the university's curators expected to get to "vote" on this district. As an aside, Van Matre was nominated to be on the board of curators but apparently was blocked because of a beef with some other developer in the city. Down the rabbit hole...
posted by zsazsa at 12:35 PM on September 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


Ten Mills to the Cent, ten Cents to the Dime, ten Dimes to the Dollar, ten Dollars to the Eagle.

And ten Eagles to the Union. Who says the metric system is unamerican!
posted by Sys Rq at 12:37 PM on September 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


>Are there many of these kinds of districts in the USA? I don't think I've heard of this before.

>>Yup. They're fairly widespread, especially in urban areas. However, the taxes and assessments that can be levied under them vary from state to state/authorizing statute to authorizing statute.


I would add, that having property owners vote on creation, taxation, and representation for levee districts is pretty common, at least in our part of the world. Often there are no residents of the area to be protected from floods (because--floodplain) and so a system like proportional voting of property owners according to land acreage or land value is typically used. This makes some degree of sense because the tax supporting the levee district is typically a property tax.

FWIW the idea of having some kind of a hyper-local tax to support hyper-local improvements is not prima facie a terrible thing. If property owners in an area got together and said, "Hey, let's each throw in $50,000/yr* towards XYZ improvements in our common area" the exact same amount money would be raised from the exact same people** and would be used for the exact same purpose. But it would be a lot harder to complain about than if you call it a 'tax'.

* In reality they would most likely peg it to the annual sales or income of each business, making it even more identical to a sales tax proposal.

** Businesses would have to raise their prices a bit to compensate for the extra expense, net effect on surrounding local residents would be exactly the same as a sales tax.

posted by flug at 1:01 PM on September 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


zsazsa: I'm just going by the city parcel map I linked above, and the original map pointing out her residence.
posted by odinsdream at 1:05 PM on September 1, 2015


And ten Eagles to the Union. Who says the metric system is unamerican!

Well, the Union was never adopted, though a half-Union ($50) pattern was produced, which led to the famous Liberty Head Double Eagle ($20) and the Liberty Head pattern on the gold Eagles in general, so it was one of the most significant patterns ever produced, even if the actual currency was never adopted and the coin never produced. One problem was the size, at the time, a Double Eagle was a decent sized coin -- 33.4g, 1.17 ounces, and a half union would be 83.5g, just shy of 3 ounces, and a full Union would be 167g, or just shy of 6 ounces -- 3/8ths of a pound!

But yes, if it had been, it would have been the sixth currency, and it would have been exactly that -- Ten Eagles to the Union. Thanks for catching that, I'd completely forgotten about it.
posted by eriko at 1:34 PM on September 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


Because people? I mean, litterbugs annoy me a lot to the point where, despite being a tiny non-white lady, I have eye-fucked people into picking up their litter from city sidewalks.

Famously, Walt Disney himself did an experiment early on in Disneyland's run. He stood up front, at the foot of Main Street USA, handing out wrapped candy. People took the candy and walked on, and since lots of people came up to meet Walt, they got lots of data.

What he'd also done is taken all the trash cans away. They watched to see how far people would walk looking for a trash can before they'd either shove the candy wrapper into a pocket/purse or just drop it. They averaged a couple of days worth of this, and figured out the average distance.

And today? There's a trashcan within five feet *under* that distance of you at all times at all Disney parks if at all possible. Between that, and the fact that every single cast member at a Disney park is also a janitor, they're amazingly clean -- but they don't have a lot to pick up, because you're always within a a reasonable number of steps to a trashcan.

In poor areas without proper civic support? Few to no trashcans, limited trash pickup. I'll bet a large part of that "littering" isn't littering, it is trash that's been displaced because it waited for proper pickup too long.
posted by eriko at 1:41 PM on September 1, 2015 [10 favorites]


odinsdream: Henderson's residence is on University property, as I mentioned here. She is living in the property identified as Mizzou North on the map you linked here. Van Metre owns Parkade Plaza, which is the area zoned as commercial in that map. They are nearby but not adjacent, separated by properties along Parkade Blvd.

I can see now why you were fixated on Van Metre more so than other property owners in the CID! Not to say that he won't gain a lot from this, given what Parkade Plaza is to that part of the Loop, but he's not the only big bad here- lots of blame to go around.
posted by aabbbiee at 1:57 PM on September 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


FWIW the idea of having some kind of a hyper-local tax to support hyper-local improvements is not prima facie a terrible thing. If property owners in an area got together and said, "Hey, let's each throw in $50,000/yr* towards XYZ improvements in our common area" the exact same amount money would be raised from the exact same people** and would be used for the exact same purpose. But it would be a lot harder to complain about than if you call it a 'tax'.

I disagree. I don't think let's-pool-our-money-to-make-OUR-area-better-and-only-OUR-area is how government should work. This is a toxic idea that underlies the hyper-local funding of schools in the US and you see what results from that. If you want things to get better, put more money in the general pot and then distribute the general pot in ways that benefit the common good (meaning not that everything spent has to somehow benefit everyone but that spending priorities need to be based on what makes the overall city/state/country a better city/state/country. If the bigger the pot gets, the more likely there will be enough to fund your improvement project, but your improvement project doesn't get to jump the line just because you're the one who put the money in.

If you allow people to say "We'll create a pot for just spending on ourselves" pretty soon the people who can afford a big pot of that type are wondering why that general pot needs so much money: I mean look how lovely the flower pots and street art is here, and the roads were just paved last money, do we really need to pay all these taxes for infrastructure and civic improvement?
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 2:18 PM on September 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


My mistake lining up the maps. Her residence does appear as being owned by the University of MO Curators, to whose board Van Matre was nominated, though it's unclear whether he actually served.
posted by odinsdream at 2:20 PM on September 1, 2015


Board of Curators meeting minutes in case anyone's interested.
posted by odinsdream at 2:23 PM on September 1, 2015


No, he has not served as a Curator. List of living former curators here.
posted by aabbbiee at 2:27 PM on September 1, 2015


Our local muckracker has a sense of humor that leans slightly to the Prairie Home Companion side of things, but if you can get through the color, there is new information here: JENNY THE CID: Business Loop sales tax drama -- or CoMo B-movie noir? I will translate some of this for those who are interested!

First, he links this article about Henderson's grandmother fighting eminent domain in St. Louis.

Second, Henderson is getting representation from local lawyer Josh Oxenhandler. Oxenhandler has been involved in other people vs. business situations in town, most notably the Repeal 6214 thing (where citizens had two different petitions certified to keep a developer from building student apartments downtown, but the city council/city management let the developer continue building anyway despite the petitions. I believe Oxenhandler is working on the lawsuit against the city for ignoring the citizens' certified petitions).
There was also a reference to Henderson getting advice from a University of Missouri Law professor in one of the articles I posted yesterday. Anyone concerned that Henderson would lose her job over this should rest easy; it's highly unlikely.

Third, he makes reference to the following names as part of the CID board: Chris Burnam and Dave Griggs. Chris Burnam and the Burnam family own Parkade Center in Parkade Plaza. He refers to Carrie Gartner as the Red Queen repeatedly. I guess Van Matre is just the lawyer on the paperwork for Parkade.
posted by aabbbiee at 7:35 AM on September 2, 2015 [3 favorites]


So now I'm curious; it's illegal to sell your vote. But is it illegal to deregister yourself in exchange for money?

I mean, sure, she can try and fight the good fight. And inevitably lose, and possibly lose her job and home in the process. Or she can figure out how much it's worth to them, and donate the proceeds to cause célèbre when it's comfortably determined she hasn't lost her job / home.
posted by pwnguin at 7:53 PM on September 13, 2015


Whoopsie again! They found a few more voters in the district after they, you know, looked harder.
posted by aabbbiee at 8:03 AM on September 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


Gartner said the district board still is not planning to call for an election on the sales tax.

"We’re still in the same boat as we were before," Gartner said.


Hilarious. Any voter not in on the scheme is a bad voter.
posted by rhizome at 10:03 AM on September 16, 2015


Hilarious. Any voter not in on the scheme is a bad voter.

Politics (particularly small town politics) writ large. You don't call a vote to find out what the people want, you call a vote when you've already rigged things so it's going to go the way you want.
posted by tocts at 10:28 AM on September 16, 2015


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