Two years ago, after attending my first council meeting in the newly renovated Rolla City Hall, I wrote about the new Council Chamber (RDN 04/26/06), "There is a large post in the middle of the room. This post stands between the area where the council sits and the area reserved for the public. There is no seat in the public area from which one can see the entire council." and "… the public is at least entitled to a council chamber where interested citizens can see and hear the proceedings without difficulty."
Now in the wake of a deadly shooting spree at a Kirkwood City Council meeting, some people in Rolla are worried. Mayor Bill Jenks says that John Butz has received "some e-mails today from City Council members who are concerned about safety." Police Chief Mark Kearse feels "his current seating in the Chambers could be better," and remarked, "I can see moving around to a more strategic place in the Council Chambers."
The fact is there are no good strategic locations in the Rolla Council Chambers. Wherever you are, that pillar blocks a significant portion of the room.
The City of Rolla spent over $3 million renovating City Hall. In the process, the local administration showed its disregard for the people who elect them and pay their salaries, by providing them with Council Chambers where the public cannot see the entire Council and must crane their necks to watch the proceedings on TV. Now the Council discovers that its own safety has been jeopardized by its lack of concern for its constituents.
In my opinion, concern that a Kirkwood type event could happen in Rolla is not misplaced.
There are some very angry, unstable people in our community. If you don't believe that just read some of the online comments posted anonymously to my column under names like "Jeff," and "The Reminder."
In addition, we have a city government that seems to take pride in gratuitously ignoring and offending the people they are supposed to be serving. For example:
After four years of a failed TIF development that at least partially contributed to the death of an elderly resident in the TIF area, the Council still refuses to terminate the TIF at the corner of Highways 63 and 72.
After ten years of forcing its citizens to spend $50,000 of their own money to prevent the City from illegally selling a dedicated park, the City, unable to sell Buehler Park, now proposes to turn a significant portion of it into a "dog park."
After having been caught red-handed overcharging its customers by at least $1 million, Rolla Municipal Utilities refuses to return this money to its customers. Board of Public Works President James Stoffer disparagingly referred to a critic of RMU's contract with MoPEP by saying, "She's a beautician. Maybe she's seen a bunch [of contracts]."
I would like to see Rolla take steps to ensure that we do not become another Columbine or Kirkwood.
Two years ago, I wrote in the Rolla Daily News (02/18/06) that, "winning back the trust and goodwill of the citizens is the most pressing need facing city government." I might have also added that it is the most effective measure that Rolla could take to avoid an incident such as the deadly shooting spree that recently occurred in Kirkwood. I would like to see some progress toward this goal and a change in the way City Hall relates to the people of Rolla.
(Tom Sager is a retired professor at the University of Missouri - Rolla. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at his website, www.tomsager.org)