The Light of Transparency

University of Missouri to Raze Complex but Questions Remain

Yesterday, University of Missouri Chancellor Loftin announced that the beleaguered Village Apartment Complex and the child daycare center it houses will be closed on June 30th and razed soon after. University officials went to great pains to point out that the decision to demolish came after an independent engineering firm had declared other apartments in the complex safe for occupancy. Parents using the daycare facility had expressed concerns ever since the apartment walkway collapse of February 22, 2014, which killed veteran Columbia firefighter Bruce Britt.

While it sounds like razing the entire complex is a good decision based on the “hundreds” of complaints about maintenance issues that the University said it has received from residents and workers over the last 5-10 years, a number of nagging questions remain; namely:

  • When the walkway was last inspected for safety and the results of that inspection
  • Whether the deteriorated condition and structural flaws in the walkway contributed to its collapse
  • Why the University did not respond aggressively to concerns raised in its own 2008 Graduate and Family Housing report that declared the walkways a “public safety hazard”
  • Whether a recent audit for daycare licensure addressed the facility’s structural integrity as implied by University spokesperson Christian Basi
  • What the $4,000 worth of work on Building 707’s walkway last summer represented

Currently, attention has shifted away from the collapse as parents now scramble to find new daycare arrangements, but before the complex is razed and the walkways disappear forever, the public is owed a full and transparent accounting by the University as to the unsettling issues still surrounding the walkway collapse and fireman Bruce Britt’s tragic death.

West Lake Landfill Controversy Grows Amid Charges of EPA Cover-Up

And speaking of the need for transparency, a March 9th article in the Wall Street Journal reported that a former board member of the EPA’s National Remedy Review Board said officials had tried to “soften some recommendations” and “remove” information that raised questions about findings contained in a 2012 review of the contaminated West Lake Landfill. The EPA made the unilateral decision to turn the review from a public process into a confidential one, citing the need for more testing and sampling at the site before getting the public involved.

EPA officials are now denying they put any pressure on review board members to change information in the report and tone down recommendations. Central to the review was the question of whether the radioactive waste buried at West Lake could or should be removed from the site, given its dispersal. That, in turn, raised concerns by some board members as to how reliable the EPA’s data was relative to the location and potential migration of the waste.

John Frisco, a retired board member who took part in the discussion said that the EPA’s actions and pressure “flies in the face of an independent review”. Frisco also said other people familiar with the West Lake matter, including one non-board member, Douglas Ammon—the direct supervisor of the Chairman of the Review Board—took positions aimed at “diluting” the recommendations.

Let the Sun Shine In

Not being privy as to what took place in that review, it’s hard for me to comment on the veracity of the allegations now being made by Mr. Frisco. But that misses the point entirely. When a federal organization entrusted to “protect from significant risks to human health and the environment where they live, learn and work” (direct quote from the EPA’s mission statement) decides to turn a public review directly affecting the health and well being of thousands of people into a confidential one, well… it gives the unmistakable appearance of a cover-up. An organization of the people, by the people and for the people loses all credibility when it takes the paternalistic attitude that the people it represents may get the wrong idea if they have access to the information currently available.

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