A Day in the Life

It’s About More Than Baseball

In Councilman Moe Baddourah's op-ed last week criticizing a proposal to build a proposed year-round multi-use sports and entertainment venue that will, among other things, host a minor league baseball team and jumpstart the historic Columbia Common development, he suggests that "we must take every measure to ensure our actions truly reflect [the people's] wishes." (My Turn, "We Can't Afford to OK Stadium Without Hearing from Public," published Feb. 5 at free-times.com.)

I agree and I believe that, as public officials, we have an obligation to listen to our constituents, to answer their questions and to address their concerns.

But it's curious to me how Councilman Baddourah can say we need "a series of public input sessions" when that's exactly what we've been doing since late last year, when we launched a comprehensive citizen engagement effort including public hearings and input sessions, community forums and neighborhood meetings throughout the city.

It's odd that he suggests we should "really listen" when he clearly didn't hear the city's own chief financial officer repeatedly explain that Columbia has more than enough capacity to build this facility while continuing to make historic investments in priorities like public safety and rebuilding our water and sewer infrastructure.

It's interesting that Baddourah references those who opposed this project at a forum he organized at Woodland Park but ignores the overwhelming support voiced by residents and businesses alike at more than a dozen similar forums across Columbia.

Unfortunately, this constant obstructionism and adversarial tone has become a hallmark of Councilman Baddourah's term in office. He's voted against everything from installing new security cameras and lowering water rates to increasing salaries for firefighters and police officers.

Lately though, it's gotten worse as he repeatedly complains that he doesn't know enough about either the multi-use venue or Columbia Common. But when someone tries to inform him, he either doesn't come to the meeting, doesn't read the report or just doesn't listen.

He and Councilwoman Leona Plaugh insisted that the city pay for an independent baseball feasibility study but were conveniently absent when that study was presented.

They insisted that Hardball Capital CEO Jason Freier attend their community forum and then denied him the opportunity to respond to questions directed at him.

They insisted that Bob Hughes give up confidential letters of intent from potential retailers — and when he's ready to do just that, they walk out of the meeting.

At our last Council meeting on Feb. 4, there was a little girl in the audience named Maggie Brunson. Maggie came to our final public hearing on the Columbia Common development back in July and won us all over when she suggested that the development should include a playground because she thought children would like to live there if there was a playground.

Well, when her mother told her that a playground would be part of the new multi-use venue we're proposing, she was sold and has been telling everyone it was her idea ever since. So she came to the Feb. 4 meeting to tell us that she loved baseball and that she wanted us to build "her playground."

She sat still for more than two hours through a step-by-step public finance analysis that would put most adults to sleep while she waited for her chance to speak. She didn't fidget, whine or make a scene. In fact, she didn't complain. She waited patiently and she listened — not just to the people she agreed with, but to everyone.

We could all learn something from Maggie's example because this job isn't about making demands to please folks who agree with you. It's about listening to all the opinions and getting all the facts — and when you do that, you see that this is about so much more than baseball.

It's about a project that's going to create more than 12,600 new jobs and, combined with those already available, that's enough new jobs to put every single person unemployed in the metro Columbia area back to work.

It's about bringing 181 acres of untaxed property back onto the tax rolls and generating millions of new dollars to fund vital services like public safety, improve our water and sewer infrastructure and help us reduce the tax burden our citizens are carrying right now.

It's about leveraging private investment in a public park and creating a place where a family of four can afford a night out together for $40 or less; where a father can reconnect with his son over a midsummer double-header; where Cub Scouts can camp out in the outfield; and where children who've never imagined a world beyond hardship and deprivation can find their heroes on the field of play instead of the street corner.

It's about going by choice and not by chance and making a difference instead of just making a scene. Little 6-year-old Maggie Brunson understands that, and I hope Councilman Baddourah is paying attention.

Mayor Steve Benjamin

Read more here.