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City Council Scheduled to Settle East Campus Dispute Monday

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An ongoing rift between two East Campus groups will come to a head at Monday night’s meeting of the Columbia City Council.

Council members are scheduled to decide whether the East Campus Traditional Neighborhood Association, made up mostly of landlords, should be recognized as its own entity and split from the East Campus Neighborhood Association.

The scheduled vote comes several months after rental property owners in East Campus, which has been governed by the ECNA for more than 40 years, decided to break away and form their own group with separate boundaries.

Rental property owners have said they are fed up with the idea that they were allowed only one vote each in the association, even though many of them own multiple properties. Residential homeowners also get one vote each.

The landlords also have said that the ECNA fails to adequately represent their interests. So, in January, they applied to the City Council for approval of a new association that encompasses most of the rental properties.

The new association’s plan would divide the original neighborhood in two, with some overlap. While overlap is not common in Columbia neighborhood associations, there are some exceptions, such as in the Douglass Park and North Central neighborhoods.

The traditional neighborhood group drafted proposed bylaws, which it originally presented to the City Council in May. Membership would be open to property owners, landlords and residents of rental property.

The new group’s bylaws would give landlords one vote on association matters for every property they own.

Although the ECNA decided not to take an official position on the matter, Chairman David Mehr said he has some personal opinions after watching the process unfold.

“The way they wrote their bylaws, with one vote per parcel, it will clearly be a landlord-dominated association,” Mehr said.

“I think that’s inappropriate. I’m not sure if the council will see it that way,” Mehr said.

“Personally I’m not opposed to the landlords having an association, but I think it’s a bit misleading to label it a neighborhood association. Fundamentally, it’s a landlord association.”

The bylaws proposed in May also required dues from voting members, a shift from other neighborhood associations. In another break from tradition, the ECTNA bylaws at first required tenants to have lived at their East Campus residence for at least one year to be eligible to vote.

The required dues raised some concern among city officials at the May meeting. Community Development Director Timothy Teddy said he wanted to avoid the group becoming a “country club,” according to the council meeting minutes.

Advocates of the new association and the City Council agreed to table the vote until Monday so they could take time to review and revise their bylaws. Among the changes:

  • Membership dues were eliminated. No payment is required to join, and, therefore, no payment is required to vote.
  • Any member is eligible for any officer position.
  • Every property can be represented by an owner as well as all of that property’s residents. For example, if a landlord were renting a single property to four tenants, that property would get five total votes in the association.

“The ECTNA aspires to be an association that is inclusive, not restrictive; accepting not discriminatory, and accessible not elitist,” Waid said, adding he’s hopeful about Monday’s vote.

“The ECNA is not opposed to our application, and generally neighborhood association approval is merely a ‘consent agenda’ item for Council. Since membership is optional for the two different associations we do not see conflict or opposition,” Waid said.

In other action, the council is scheduled to set an Aug. 6 public hearing on whether to reverse voluntary reductions in the city’s property tax levy. The levy, which is now 41 cents, would rise to 43.29 cents. The increase would generate an additional $470,000 per year and in the coming budget year would be used to help pay for a new fire station.

The increase would cost the owner of a $200,000 home an extra $9.04 per year.