October 25, 2013

Editorial: Columbia voters should re-elect Devine

WHILE AT-LARGE Columbia City Council candidate Tommy Burkett declares “it’s really time for a change in this city,” he does little to explain why voters should choose him over three-term incumbent Tameika Isaac Devine in the Nov. 5 election.

Early in her tenure, Ms. Devine impressed us with her independence, eagerness to do her homework and willingness to make tough decisions. Nothing illustrated that more than when she helped reverse the city’s wrong-headed attempt to build a publicly financed hotel. She initially agreed that a public hotel was the way to go. But after gathering more information and receiving public input, she did something far too few politicians do: She wisely changed her mind to make a better decision. She raised questions and, along with then-Councilwoman Anne Sinclair, convinced the council to seek a private developer.

Ms. Devine proceeded to grow into a seasoned, accountable council member who often is on the right side of issues and consistently pursues common ground and solutions.

But she has had hiccups along the way: Take, for example, her dogged insistence on using tax increment financing to fund projects aimed at improving parts of north Columbia. While that area of Columbia long has been neglected and in need of a jump start, there are pay-as-you-go options that should be considered instead of a method that irrevocably siphons future tax dollars away from city and county services and school operations. Recently, Ms. Devine said that while the TIF district isn’t off the table, she is open to alternatives, which was good to hear.

We particularly have been surprised, and disappointed, at how Ms. Devine has responded to attempts to allow voters to determine whether a strong mayor should lead the city. What concerns us isn’t so much that she opposes the change; it’s that she was a leader in the council’s long refusal to allow citizens to decide the issue. The council majority scheduled a Dec. 3 vote only after citizens forced the issue with a successful petition campaign.

But if there was any concern that Ms. Devine had strayed too far from the independent, reasoned representative who had served so admirably for nearly 12 years, that was answered when she opposed the hastily approved agreement that will guide development of the old State Hospital property on Bull Street. Her efforts to slow the process down so that it would get sufficient airing were reminiscent of her opposition to the proposed city-owned hotel.

Mr. Burkett, who expressed reasonable concerns about rising water and sewer rates and City Council’s use of reserve funds, attempts to distinguish himself from Ms. Devine by saying that residents will know where he stands on issues. He builds this argument on the charge that Ms. Devine failed citizens by not being present when the final vote was cast on the Bull Street development agreement.

But the fact is that Ms. Devine was present at that decisive meeting and had to leave early to travel to Washington. Prior to leaving, she attempted to get the council to delay the vote to allow a more thorough vetting and more public input; a vote on her proposal was defeated. Ms. Devine also had voted against preliminary approval of the agreement at an earlier meeting. The bottom line is that everyone knew where Ms. Devine stood, and even if she had stayed for the final vote, it would not have changed the outcome.

Ms. Devine, who says she wants to concentrate on providing city police with the resources they need, improving the financial stability of city residents and boosting the fortunes of small businesses, believes she still has much to offer the city. We agree. So should voters.

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