City Council sends Taser ban proposal to ballot

The council also voted to restrict police review board complaints to Columbia residents and family.
Necklaces for People for a Taser-Free Columbia hang from a toolbox that member Pam Forbes brought to the Columbia City Council meeting. The group handed out the necklaces to generate support for an ordinance that will ban the weapons if the council approves it.

Columbia City Council members voted to send an ordinance banning Taser use within city limits to the Nov. 2 ballot after hearing several appeals from citizens to ban the weapons as dangerous. Council members also voted to place the renewal of the 1/8 sales tax for park renovation on the ticket for November and placed restrictions on who is eligible to file complaints with the Citizens Police Review Board.

The council unanimously voted against an ordinance proposed by People for a Taser-Free Columbia. Because the measure was not passed by the council, it will go before the voters in the next election. Not all council members opposed the ban, but most felt it should be decided on by voters.

“It’s clear that there has been a misuse of Tasers," Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe said. "But my personal opinion about this is that people feel strongly about this issue and it should be up to a vote by the people.”

The council’s decision came after several members of the community spoke out about the dangers of conductive electrical devices, like Tasers. People for a Taser-Free Columbia spokesman Ken Green said Tasers are a type of cruel and unusual punishment and the city should worry about possible lawsuits filed by Taser victims. The group successfully petitioned to have the proposed ordinance come before the Council by attaining more than 3,500 signatures from Columbia residents.

“We the citizens have the final say in what weapons police can use,” Green said.

Council members also voted on an ordinance to restrict who can file a complaint with the Citizens Police Review Board. Following a controversial February SWAT raid, marijuana activist Ed Rosenthal — a resident of Piedmont, Calif. — filed a complaint against Columbia police officers claiming they used excessive force. At the time, Columbia had no limitations on who could file complaints with the review board. On Monday, after an amendment by Second Ward Councilman Jason Thornhill, the council passed an ordinance limiting those who could file a complaint to Boone County residents, victims and victim’s friends, family or attorneys.

The council also discussed at length City Manager Bill Watkins’ budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2011, and several members of the public requested the council include more funding for both the arts and social services. The council had decided at an earlier meeting that there would be several opportunities for members of the city to learn about and discuss the proposed budget before the decision would be made in mid-September.

First Ward Councilman Paul Sturtz said it seemed the budget for Fiscal Year 2011 was crafted in anticipation of financial trouble in Fiscal Year 2012. Watkins then explained to the council that FY2012 was expected to be a “booger,” economically. Watkins recommended the city draw $3 million from its $160 million reserve fund to help cover for FY2011, reinforcing three themes of his proposal: stability, continued core services and limits.

The City Council also voted unanimously to place on the November ballot a renewal of the one-eighth cent sales tax for the acquisition of more land for green space and recreational parks, which is projected to bring $12 million of revenue over the next five years. The Council made its decision despite warnings from Columbia resident Paul Love that green space could have unintended consequences.

“More green space encourages wildlife to move through the neighborhoods," he said. "They do silly things like eat the flowers out of your flower beds or total your car if you happen to come across them at night."

The next City Council meeting will next meet at 7 p.m. Sept. 6 at Columbia City Hall. Monday's meeting began one hour early to allow extra time for the budget discussion.

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