COLUMBIA, Mo. (KMIZ)
Business owner Philip Merriman wants to be the lone Libertarian-leaning voice on the Columbia City Council.
Merriman prioritizes personal freedom and warns of the dangers of tyranny in his campaign material and has harsh words for the city's coronavirus restrictions and how tax dollars are spent. He's hoping to unseat Betsy Peters in Ward 6 and beat out fellow challenger Randy Minchew.
Family: Wife, Kat
Occupation: Owner of IT services and consulting company Seraphim Systems
Previous political experience: None
What do you think of the city’s new trash pickup procedures?
The guiding principles behind how I would like government to run is as unintrusive as possible, and as minimally as possible. Small government is the foundation of many of my beliefs. But part of that means the motivation behind doing things has to change as well.
Obviously, small government means you have more faith in people, you expect people to be more mature, more adult, more responsible with their own behavior. Large government mentality tends to think less of the individual, they're not capable of, or they can't be trusted to, or they won't behave correctly on their own. So the incentive behind this program, the reason they call it pay as you throw, is because, as stated on the website, they're trying to incentivize people to have less trash, which is just not something they can control, right?
I mean, that the average per household is two bags. You know, that's the average per household. Sure, one house might have 20 bags. And that just means that a larger number of houses have one and a half. But you don't get to choose that. It's not that people are being wasteful. ... I live alone with my wife, it's just me and her, our waste is going to be less than a family who has two kids or five kids or 10 kids, it's just that there's no debating that and you can't pick and choose that. So you don't want to penalize people who have large families. And you don't want to penalize people who have pets or have other reasons why there's additional waste coming from their home that's outside their control. It's a silly thing to try and say we're in the business of incentivizing how much waste you have, especially post 2020, where all of our recycling is just going to the landfill anyway.
There's no reason to curb that when it's not actually having the intended effect. And then you're just wasting tax dollars printing the city's logo on bags. I mean, if that's what the people want, right?
Would you support using roll carts?
... I'm not a dictator, I'm not going to tell people that they need to do it my way. There was a petition signed years ago that said, we don't want to discuss roll carts. We don't want to vote on this. And it was taken off the ballot for a couple of years. And that's how the political system works.
It's time for that to come back up. And if they decide, hey, we do want this to happen now, I mean, fine, that's what people want, I'm not going to tell them they can't add it. Obviously, that just comes down to a vote. We need to put it on the ballot that people say yes, this is our preferred method. And that's what they get.
Do I think it's a smart choice? No, not really. I mean, am I going to stand in the way of it that also? No, not really. I think the best choice is to privatize this. I think that's just a very, very simple observable. ... If the government gets in the way and says, here's the one-size-fits-all solution, we're going to do roll carts, for some people, that's going to work great. And you're going to have a tiny minority of people who are like, yep, great, we got my roll carts, this is exactly what I wanted. And then for another group of people, they're gonna think, dang, now I get have to be used to big roll carts, I gotta roll these big things out, they take a bunch of space to make the street look ugly, you're going to have it not work for others. The only way that we can have a solution that works for more than one group of people is if we privatized where we can say, the city releases its routes and schedules, there are already several private companies that do recycling like A-1 and others here just locally in Colombia, and will provide people with a means to pick the service that works for them.
And if you're elderly or handi-capable, and you don't want to wheel out big barrels, you want to pay for ... doing to the door service where they can come in and help you do that. There are services that offer that. ... If you want the roll cart, there are services for that. If you want standard bags, there's a service for that. You pick the service that's right for you, and you contract with a company that's right for you. And then you're not stuck with the loudest voice got there and everybody else is now kind of stuck with that solution. It's the only way everybody can have a solution that works for them.
What is Columbia’s greatest infrastructure need?
Columbia's greatest infrastructure need is probably I would say its very, very aging water system. We have a lot of overburden on our downtown water and light that needs to be retrofitted ASAP.
I mean, downtown is not the busiest part of our town by a longshot. But it's definitely the oldest infrastructurally speaking it's dying to repair. We keep having problems with burst mains and things downtown. That would be nice not to have.
... Columbia is always gonna have problems with roads, so that's not a measure of our neglect necessarily as a city. That's just us living in Missouri, right? We're a climate of extremes. We have cold winters and hot summers. And the nature of Quickrete, the nature of Columbia Readymix, that product, it does its job. I mean, obviously, you can drive on it, but it doesn't handle the extreme temperatures gracefully. And so we're always going to have chipping in the summer. And we're always going to have pieces of it coming up in the winter. And that's just not a thing we can combat. And so we need to have a system that accounts for that, and says knowing that the roads are never going to be perfect, they're never going to be structurally sound for years or decades of the time.
... It'd be mobilizing a system where we can have affordable, yearly maintenance on this where we're going to have to be resurfacing things more regularly. That's just the nature of things, geographically where we are. And I don't think that our current plan really takes that into account. I think we have this expectation that our roads just be perfect all the time. It's never going to be achievable for us. That's just not where we're at. So we need to plan better for maintenance and for regular upkeep than we do for completely overhauling the street or that road and welding and rock for a decade. That's not a plan that's gonna work for us.
Do you agree with city leaders’ approach to the coronavirus pandemic?
Not even a little bit.
No, I would say that I kind of tried to open this with some anecdotes about small government. And the exact opposite is what took place. I mean ... our city leaders got in the business of telling people how many people they can have in their homes, and what kind of diapers to wear on your face.
I mean, it got completely silly, especially now with the ... now only a couple of days old CDC information that was just released, saying that the data between cities that did and cities that didn't mess up is within statistical margin of error is less than 1% difference. We now know definitively that the masks didn't make a difference, we now know definitively that there was no science behind that, and it was all pre-empting. So the fact that they were 100% following on this demonstrates a lack of their willingness to actually follow the science, demonstrates a lack of their ability to be impartial, they were clearly motivated by something other than the science and that at this point is no longer acceptable.
So I think that the biggest problem is that knowing that they were not scientifically correct, they did it anyway. They initiated these lockdowns, and now we're seeing that the side effects obviously, on a national scale ... the crime went up, suicide went up, depression has gone up, obesity has gone up. All of these things are major problems in and of themselves. These are all major problems that we're dealing with as a society. And every single one of them got worse. Every single one of those problems on their own is now demonstrably worse than it was prior to this. And we got nothing out of it. ... We didn't benefit at all from these lockdowns.
Now we've lost public trust. People no longer trust their elected officials, because they've been lied to for a year. There's a lot of fallout. And on top of that, it violates those principles of limited government. I mean, these people ... were never supposed to be getting in your life and telling you ... when you can leave your house or what time of day. Are you allowed to go outside? All those things are such overreaches of local power. And it's an affront to democracy, it's an affront to what our local government is supposed to do. They're way out of bounds on this. And I think that I'm not the only one that feels this way. I think that I might be the only one who vocalizes it in such strong terms. But I think on some level, people all agree that the government was invasive at this point. To what level I think we all will disagree, some people are still going to try and advocate for measures that might have helped or save lives. There's there's a bunch of people who aren't going to necessarily see the science on that. And it's one thing to care. It's another thing to justify government overreach, because you care, it's a totally different thing. So I think that's a big problem.
I would never advocate for any curfews or restrictions or things like that of personal liberties, those are the absolute fundamental basic concept of American freedom. ... I cannot think of a reason why I would ever violate those principles, even if it was saving lives, even if it was as bad as they thought it was, I still wouldn't have done it. There are so many principles at play there. I think there's a reason why, historically, we hear these statements like give me liberty or give me death -- if you're not free, you're not alive. There's nothing worth sacrificing your freedom for. The most important thing to remember is that any person who would sacrifice their freedoms for a little security deserves neither, and will lose both.
Has police community outreach worked?
I think Columbia is in a unique situation with its policing on account of, we're not the only university in the world, but we definitely have a very, very, very strong skewing of our population towards the student population. A huge portion of Columbia's population has a transient student population. And that definitely has an impact on crime and drug use and things like that, because that demographic is very affected.
I think the CPD does a good job. I mean, given their resources, I think they do a fine job. I know a lot of the people at CPD are good people, and they're not failing to do their job. I think that they need additional resources. Colombia is growing. I mean, we were getting a little bigger every year. Our population is increasing. We're expanding geographically in almost every direction.
Actually, there's a lot of expansion projects in play here. And I think that it's important to remember that as the city scales, the population scales, but its infrastructure, and in this particular case, that means for certain emergency responders, police and fire, they need to expand with it, and probably at a rate that's not just equal, but probably a little bit ahead because you never want to fall behind on that. That's not something that we want to say, oh, we fell behind too much on our policing, and now one area is being neglected because we've expanded into this other area, so I think that there are definitely more resources they would benefit from not just equipment. But I mean, also additional training, additional personnel, those are all things that would benefit the city of Columbia.
Do you think the city needs a comprehensive audit?
That's a really tough question. And I go back and forth on this one, not because I don't know that the benefit is there.
I think one of the biggest problems, probably the biggest problem with our city, in terms of its governance, is overspending. We spend an enormous amount of money on stuff that doesn't benefit the average Columbian. There may be an abstract benefit, right? If you're the kind of person who thinks that the whole world is a global society, and Colombia doesn't matter, in the grand scheme of things, we're all part of Earth or whatever, you may think that it's worth it to spend Colombia tax dollars on projects that might never yield fruit for a Colombian citizen.
I don't believe that. I don't think that's quite right. And I think that those are fundamentally at odds with my view of local government, that we spend a lot of money on programs that don't benefit Colombians. And when we're already that far gone in terms of our budget and our fiscal management, spending additional money to hire a board of auditors and to pay for these services is not cheap. That's an expensive thing. It's really just difficult to convince me that the solution to overspending is to spend money to audit the overspending. It's an expensive process, we already know it's not being done right.
Nobody's saying we should audit to see what's going on wrong. We all know what the problem is. The audit might codify that for some people that might say here specifically, is the person that we're going to, you know, pin this on, or the department that's going to be held accountable for this. But that's not a tangible benefit to the people. We already, again, all know that there's a problem. Paying someone to tell us "yes, you're correct there's a problem," is not saving us any more money.
I think that the best solution would be, we need to revisit what accountability means. And my platform that I've been running on my website is about, you know, fiscal responsibility, limited government and accountability. And the accountability, part of that really gets an unfair amount of neglect. There's way less attention paid to what accountability means in government. Right now, in the system, if you elect somebody, and they fail to hold up their end of the bargain, right, you're kind of employing somebody in a way you're saying, "We've elected you to serve the public, you work for the city of Columbia now." If they fail to do their job, or ... if they behave unethically, or if they betrayed the interests of the people who elected them, there's no recourse. The people of the city of Columbia don't say, "Oh, well, that person's fired." We don't have that ability. We basically say, "okay, that person's a lemon." But we're stuck with them for the next X number of years until the election cycle comes up, and they get to sit there and be toxic to the community for that long. There's no recourse. There's no accountability. They're never held accountable for the things they do. And that has to change.
We need to start looking at ways ... to hold our elected officials accountable, not just for their successes, because they do deserve credit when they succeed. But there needs to be accountability for when they don't, when they fail to meet those expectations. We need to find a way to say "Look, you're not doing your job, you got to get out so somebody else can." And that's a big problem. That's a very, very big problem that needs attention.
EDITOR's NOTE: Columbia's city charter includes a provision for recalling city council members.