Q.-15. Do you believe the City of Springfield was trying to perpetrate a cover-up?
A.-15. That's how it appeared to me.
Q.-16. Why did it appear the city was covering something up?
A.-16. There were numerous reasons. I'll summarize a few.
A. CAMPBELL CASE: In 1987 Delmer Campbell and Mary Kay Campbell, owners of the house at 1903 South Avenue, filed a lawsuit seeking compensation for damages to personal and real property caused by sewage in their basement. In his claim, Del Campbell said he had been reporting the problem, to no avail, since 1980. A year after the lawsuit was filed, I arrived in Springfield and soon experienced my first blackwater (sewage-laced) flood, which Campbell discussed when my parents chose to ignore it. I liked my new neighbor.
Mr. Campbell, the founder of Campbell Pest Control, was a snake-eradication expert as well as ham radio operator. My parents warned me that he was eccentric because he claimed he'd invented a perpetual motion machine that would run without gas, and an auto-repair tool that served two purposes in one gadget. No one took him seriously, since he had no evidence to back up his claims. They tried to ignore him much as he claimed the city ignored him. They considered him full of hot air.
Mr. Campbell played a guitar, wore a cowboy hat and drove a tractor-style lawnmower in a circle while a contraption hooked to a chain trailed behind. It was a manual push-mower which his wife steered as she ran behind the riding lawnmower. This odd-looking creation enabled the Campbells to cut and trim their lawn twice as well at half the time and cost most others expended on their own yards.
At the time of my arrival, Campbell was conducting a one-man protest to alert Springfieldians to take a stand against stormwater/sewage contamination. His letters ran in the Springfield News-Leader, he aired his complaints over his CB radio, and he tried to rally neighbors by talking to them about more than just the dismal sewer-system situation. Bass Pro had approached him, he said, offering big bucks for his property. "I said no, because I wouldn't do that to my neighbors, "Del Campbell told me. He said that if Bass Pro acquired one piece of property, it would soon buy up the whole block. At a time when homes were worth around $45,000, Campbell's claim about an offer more than twice that figure seemed preposterous, although neighbors worried there might be some truth to it. So, instead of organizing as a class, they let things slide until it was too late.
Five years after the Campbell lawsuit had been filed, things changed rapidly in the Neighborhood Watch area. First, the Campbell lawsuit was settled out of court, and Campbell's protests stopped. Next, Del Campbell's auto-repair tool hit the market, attractively packaged in a box bearing his name. While celebrating his success, the inventor suddenly died of a heart attack, and on that sunny afternoon in 1992, the Neighborhood Watch group lost the voice it had never really heard because it did not listen.
Years later, when I acquired a copy of Campbell v. City Utilities from the Greene County Circuit Court's archives, I realized what the members of Neighborhood Watch had lost when Del Campbell went forever silent: The Voice of Truth.
B. BASS PRO BUYOUTS: In 1993, Bass Pro (owned by John L. Morris) bought the Campbell house. It was the first acquisition made on South Avenue by John L. Morris, who proved Del Campbell's prediction true. Bass Pro mounted an aggressive campaign to purchase the homes on the west side of the 1900 block of South Avenue and businesses behind them on South Campbell Avenue. Soon it owned most of the houses on Cherokee Street from Robberson Avenue to Campbell Avenue and the press gave coverage to the planned expansion of the Bass Pro Outdoor World's campus.
A major flood swept through the neighborhood in spring 1994, followed by removal of a number of houses from the neighborhood, including the Campbell home at 1903 South Avenue, directly SW of Manhole 13. Two versions of the story about the removals floated around, but only one reached the public. KOLR-10's Jill Jensen reported live, as the homes were being trucked to a community development agency, that they would be refurbished and sold to low- income buyers who qualified for their low-interest loans, and that John L. Morris, who was lauded as a hero, made the magnanimous contribution at his own expense. The other version, circulated by longtime members in the Neighborhood Watch area, claimed the houses at the north end of South Avenue were so damp and moldy that one owner could not keep his place rented.
I witnessed the badly damaged house with my own eyes after the stone facade under the front windows had been removed during the process of hoisting the house onto the truck. The wood wall was so rotted that it resembled a gaping mouth with no teeth.
Years later a real estate appraiser told me a third version of the story: some of the houses were scrapped, dismantled, and what could be saved was sold as salvage.
In October 1994 I had lunch with Bass Pro's public relations director, Martin MacDonald, who gave me a map of the proposed expansion site on the east side of Campbell Avenue. He told me that when I was ready to sell my house on Washita Street, I should give him a call. One month later, in November 1994, the Bass Pro buyouts came to a sudden halt. The aggressive course of action turned passive, leaving those who remained in the neighborhood wondering what happened and why. Floods have come and gone, with only one sign of activity indicating Bass Pro has not abandoned its plan entirely. Two years ago it bought the home of Jack Reres, an original Neighborhood Watch member who had moved into a nursing home. Purchase price was less than Fair Market Value--what some people might call "a steal."
Today, three homes on the block remain under private ownership. The yards where all other houses once stood are well-kept greenspace on which people walk their dogs, play ball or sunbathe in the park-like setting. A few yards southwest of Manhole 13, the former Campbell yard, under which the sewage-damage basement lies like a hidden, leaky gasket, absorbs rainfall, stormwater and sewage overflow the way a blotter soaks up spilled ink.
My numerous attempts to get information from Bass Pro about its intended use of the property were fruitless, because no one ever contacted me. I called the city to find out if any plans were on the table for development in the area, but was told that until a developer files plans and makes proper application, there is no record of any such plan.
Perhaps Springfield City Councilman Conrad Griggs might shed light on this impasse that has allowed homeowners in the SASS area to risk going down the drain. He once owned a house in the neighborhood on South Avenue.
C. THE OLD FISHIN' HOLE: Nan Mitchell's recollection of a drainage ditch or pond in the basin at the South Avenue-Washita Street junction was corroborated by the late James O' Bryant, son of a prominent Billings banker, who lived at 1902 South Avenue until his death shortly before the turn of the 21st century.
Jim told me he used to fish in the pond when he was a child during the 1920s, and he never imagined that he would one day live there. Like me, he inherited the home from his parents. Following his death, his widow Catherine lived in the house until she was confined to an isolation ward at Cox South while recovering from an unidentified bacterial condition that developed after she cleaned up a sewage backup in her home in 2001.
Jim was a native Ozarker who took over when I quit serving as Homeowner's Representative of the Neighborhood Watch group in 1989, and he took it upon himself to educate me into the "redneck, hillbilly ways" of which he was "G-D proud." He lived directly across the street from Del Campbell, whom he considered a nut case despite the fact Jim was also concerned about potential flooding. Whereas Campbell had difficulty getting anyone in authority to pay attention to him, Jim O'Bryant had connections that started at City Hall and ran all the way to a close friendship with the founder of Cox Hospitals.
Jim once told me, "I told Lester E. Cox and the City of Springfield that if there is ever a flood on this G-D drained swamp, I'll sue the city for a million bucks." If he had lived a few years longer, that's probably exactly what he would have done, and this long boondoggle in which I have been involved might never have happened.
Because James O'Bryant and Nan Mitchell concurred about the prior existence of a natural retention area that existed before a culvert was installed underground, and because South Avenue itself rushes like a roiling, rolling creek or river during heavy rainfall events, I wondered just how extensive the waterways under our SASS area really are--and what the city could tell me about it.
I received confirmation from Thomas Rykowski, assistant city attorney, in a letter dated January 6, 2006, that states: "Our records indicate that an underground system exists in the Washita/South/Campbell area. Our staff is currently searching for drawings or diagrams of this system. "
Upon receipt of this information, I will provide copies to SASS.
Q.-17. Is there any other reason you suspected the city was engaged in a cover up?
A.-17. There is another incident, but I wouldn't call it a cover up. It was probably an attempt to fix a problem that might have been, and might still be, too big to be fixed until or unless millions of dollars are spent. I cannot calculate how many million, but it would only pay to spend what appears to be required if the money will be reclaimed through a cash-producing enterprise. In other words, something commercially successful, like the Entertainment Zone John L. Morris once announced he planned. Or, something another entrepreneur would be willing to fund.