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May 3, 2012 | 12:00 a.m. CST
Disillusioned with partisan politics on both sides, Mark Flakne found his own path to political involvement. He became one of the founding members of CiViC, also known as Citizens Invested and Involved in Columbia, in February 2012, and the president of Keep Columbia Free, an organization based on defending the civil liberties and natural rights of citizens.
Initially established in 2009 as a response to legislation that placed government surveillance cameras downtown, KCF has several ballot initiatives in play: to get rid of red light cameras in town, to require parking fine and rate increases be made by a vote of the citizens of Columbia and amend the smoking ban to allow smoking in restaurants. The group also keeps an eye on a number of civil issues, including the recent blight decree controversy.
Flakne weighs in on how he feels the decree could affect Columbia and provides more details on what KCF is and how citizens can get involved.
Could you briefly explain the blight decree?
There’s a plan underway to create an EEZ, an Enhanced Enterprise Zone, which is a tax-abatement area for specific businesses. The prerequisite for creating it is that it has to be a blighted area, which has a definition according to the state that lists all sorts of frightening terms like “moral decay.” The first step in the process was to declare a large portion of the city as blighted. It’s generally used for inner-city places where the population has fled, there’s empty buildings, broken windows, tons of crime — but I don’t see anything like that in Columbia, that’s for sure.
How did the blight decree occur in Columbia?
The problem is it was passed by resolution as opposed to by ordinance. If it’s by ordinance, it takes several meetings with several opportunities for public comment and input into the process. With a resolution, basically it was presented in one week, and the next week they passed it with very little public input. The question is whether or not that was a legal move on the part of the city, according to the city charter.
How will the blight decree affect Columbia citizens?
Blight opens the door for eminent domain abuse. Cities love to take advantage of old blight decrees. Even if your house is the nicest one on the block — your lawn is mowed and landscaped and everything is painted well — if they can show that the majority of houses in your neighborhood are bad, they can take yours. The other problem is, when an area has been blighted, why would I put money into putting new siding on my house? Why would I put a new roof on my house? Why would I paint? There’s no incentive for me to keep my property up to snuff. Imagine you’re looking at two separate houses, one across the street from the other. The one on the east side of the street is blighted; the one on the west side is not. Which one are you going to buy? Have city officials done a good job explaining the blight situation to citizens? Absolutely not. I have trouble discerning whether the city officials really don’t know what they’re doing, or if they’re floating these ideas by purposely to try and mislead the public. The mayor and the city manager have been on the board of Regional Economic Development Incorporated since the start, and this thing’s been going on for a year. It only came to the public eye recently, and it happened really fast.
Are people surprised by the overall politics of KCF?
People look at us, and if they read the blog, they think, “Who are these stoner hippie leftists?” Then they meet us, and we’re all very clean-cut, educated folks who are very conservative. I would argue we’re traditionally more conservative than folks in the Republican Party today. Our small-government ideas are more like what Ron Paul or Gary Johnson in the Libertarian Party would talk about. That’s real conservatism in my opinion, not the tax like crazy so we can be in 130 countries with our military, which isn’t a very conservative ideal.
How can citizens get involved in KCF?
There is keepcolumbiafree.com — go there, check out the blogs. There’s contact information there for all of us, and we have a biweekly happy hour Thursday nights at Top 10 Wines. We go 6 until 9-ish. It’s open to the public, not a meeting, nobody with a gavel taking notes. You can come and talk about liberty topics, or you can just come and play ping-pong.
What are some of the goals of KCF in regard to the blight decree?
We would like to see them rescind and reconstitute the EEZ board. We feel that many of the people on the board have kind of a vested interest in making this happen, and we really think there should be more community involvement on that board. Some representatives from the neighborhoods that are affected would be a very good start. The plan is that the blight map will be rescinded, and the EEZ board will then propose a new map, passed by ordinance. We don’t think the ordinance will be stopped without a lot of public input, so we plan to bring that out.
Why do you support drug legalization?
If we brought drug sales into the light of the legitimate market, a lot of this violence would dry up. I have teenage kids, and it has been statistically proven that kids have an easier time buying drugs than alcohol, and drugs are illegal, so the drug war’s a failure. And also, I don’t want my kids out on a Saturday night getting shot in some sort of crazy gunplay somewhere in town. Liquor store owners are not out shooting each other; drug dealers are, and that’s where I stand on that.