Chamber Addresses City Council Concerns About the Lack of Transparency and Not Supporting The Outcomes of Ballot Measures


The Columbia Chamber of Commerce addressed the Columbia City Council at its July 16, 2018 meeting regarding its lack of transparency and not supporting the outcomes of voter-approved ballot measures. Past chairman, David Nivens, was granted time to speak during the meeting’s scheduled public comment section. Nivens focused on the Chamber’s and business community’s concerns surrounding the delay or inaction on several voter-approved projects as well as the city not communicating the status of these projects. Below is the transcript of his comments:

“Thank you Mayor Treece, Council Members and City Manager Matthes. My name is David Nivens, 300 S Providence Rd. This past year I have had the honor of serving as Chairman of the Board of Directors for the Chamber of Commerce. This was a title which I did not expect to have but was very humbled and appreciative of the opportunity to further serve the organization and be the volunteer leader and voice for our members.

I joined the Chamber in 2005 and have volunteered in various capacities at the Chamber as well as multiple civic groups and non-profits throughout the community over the years. As I’ve become more involved these last few years I’ve been able to obtain a better understanding of our community, how it functions and what makes Columbia great.

I’ve also come to better understand the time and effort, research and expertise each of you give and have while trying to do this job on behalf of the residents of the City. I appreciate what you do for our community and thank you for your willingness to serve.

I’ve been excited and proud to see our Chamber get more involved in being the voice for the business community at our local, state and federal levels. To more actively engage with our city government, the Chamber developed a local agenda in 2017 and further refined that agenda in 2018. Of our 5 priorities, working with City Council to support the outcome of ballot measures as proposed and approved by voters, is something our members feel very strongly about, and it has been voiced to me on multiple occasions that our members support and embrace this as our number one local agenda item.

Our organization and many of its members whom I’ve spoken with personally, are deeply concerned and frankly very upset with the continuing trend by the City Council of taking projects that have been approved by voters and stopping or delaying portions of those ballot initiatives. The projects inside these bond elections which were approved by City Council to present to voters have been endorsed by community and business members recruited to assist campaigns to ensure passage of these initiatives based on these projects. They were also presented to the Chamber and were endorsed and promoted to our membership and the community by our board and staff. They were then presented to the voters and passed by large margins with the expectations of the funds being used to complete the projects as presented. The Council’s decisions to selectively remove projects from these bonds has severely eroded the trust of our members in delivering on the promises that our citizens and businesses have been given and puts into jeopardy the success of future ballot measures needed to advance the city.

As we looked into the 2013 Sewer Bond election that was approved by voters by nearly 80 percent, we wanted to determine whether the Henderson Branch project was the only item being stopped. We inquired from City staff how many projects had been completed, how much bond money had been spent and if there were other projects that were being delayed. Being a public entity, the information requested should have been readily available and easy to acquire and understand, but instead it took multiple attempts to get the right information and there are still questions surrounding projects and their status. The City staff should be commended on their hard work to provide answers for the questions we were asking. However, the spreadsheet provided and the time and effort it took to provide the information was very disconcerting for a city government and staff that prides itself on making its operations transparent and accessible.

I believe that our votes as citizens matter most at the local level. When our votes as citizens are disregarded as the final decision on issues that were vetted and presented to us, then I feel like the value of my vote and my voice has been diminished. This is the unfortunate circumstance that has been created by the actions of City Council over the past several years which has now culminated with this specific project and bond issue that we’re addressing.

The Columbia Chamber of Commerce respectfully requests the City Council move to reconsider the Henderson Branch Sewer Extension and make it a priority to expedite the completion of the remaining projects and provide better access to the status and timeline of projects moving forward. We also ask you to move the Transmission Lines Project which the voters approved funding for in 2015 forward. Studies have been done and it is up to council members to see that project come to fruition as well. The costs of these projects will continue to increase. Voters have the right to expect these projects to be completed as voted on and approved.

Thank you for your time and service to the City of Columbia.”

There have also been several stories in the media regarding this:

It’s been almost five years after nearly 80 percent of voters approved the Henderson Branch project. The Chamber inquired from City staff about the status of the other projects in the 2013 bond election. Thanks to city staff for providing the status of the projects. Take a look at the list of projects.