We all stand on the shoulders of those who come before us. As a County Commissioner, I see this legacy day in and day out, from buildings planned, to policies implemented, to the county’s organizational structure. I see the faces of some of those Commissioners in that legacy—including Frank Graham, Dave Horner, Keith Schnarre, Ed Robb, Billie Tritschler, and Don Stamper. But one on whose shoulders I stand all the time is Karen Miller.
Karen championed Boone County’s membership in the National Association of Counties (NACo). She was so passionate about NACo that she committed her time and talent for five years, first as an officer and later as President of NACo. As part of her platform, she promoted the importance of smaller counties with a rural population base, like Boone County.
Karen introduced me to NACo early on and I was hooked. The opportunities for learning and for technical and monetary support from NACo and its partners came rapidly. I discovered, as had Karen, that the more effort Boone County invested in NACo, the more NACo gave back. And, over the last eight years, NACo has given back time and time again. This is a case in point…
Assessing Our Economic Recovery Needs
A few weeks ago, NACo contacted me and asked if I would participate in a special project that was being supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The project is designed to assess economic recovery needs at the county level in the face of COVID-19. To assess the county perspective, NACo invited representatives from eight counties across the country—Boone County, Missouri; Alameda County, California; El Paso County, Colorado; El Paso County, Texas; Howard County, Maryland; Johnson County, Iowa; Orange County, North Carolina, and Wise County, Virginia—to participate in a virtual focus group to share recovery concerns and plans for the near- and long-terms.
To prepare for the national focus group meeting, I reached out to members of the community to obtain different perspectives on our county’s economic health and recovery plans and needs for their particular sector of the local economy. Included in my own personal focus group were Matt Jenne, local businessman and current chair of the Columbia Chamber of Commerce; Stacey Button, President of REDI (Regional Economic Development); Paul Land, Plaza Commercial Realty; Ted Webber, RE-MAX, a residential realtor; Brian Whorley, a start-up entrepreneur, founder and CEO of Paytient, and the director of business development and planning for Boone Hospital Center; and members of the Emergency Support Functions teams, working under the direction of the Office of Emergency Management here in Boone County. While these individuals provided insight into some of the nuances in our county’s situation, the national discussion that NACo facilitated demonstrated that what we are seeing here in Boone County is happening to a significant degree across the country.
Broadband Access and Sales Tax Revenue
Two issues about which representatives of every jurisdiction in the NACo focus group spoke were the needs for adequate broadband coverage nationwide and for the ability of local government to capture sales tax revenues from online/remote purchases. Both of these issues existed pre-COVID-19 but their importance has been highlighted by the pandemic.
We knew prior to COVID-19 that access to adequate internet coverage impacts educational and business success. Now, we have seen that individuals and families lacking adequate broadband coverage are disproportionately impacted by the pandemic when education goes online; jobs are done remotely; health care and mental health care are rendered through telemedicine; and job applications and COVID-19 funding opportunities are available online. Focus group members encouraged NACo and the Gates Foundation to push ever harder for Congress to develop a solution to this issue—which is so similar to the electrification efforts in this country in the early 20th Century—and to ensure that the solution is monitored and providers are held accountable.
We also knew prior to COVID-19 that counties’ ability to pay for core services was becoming ever more difficult because of diminished revenue streams. This was particularly true in jurisdictions in which taxes on remote/online sales could not be collected. For the last two years, over 50% of sales have occurred online and, in jurisdictions like ours, which rely heavily on sales tax revenues to meet our budgetary obligations, that means we are relying on an ever-decreasing revenue stream to meet the same obligations—to maintain roads, run the court system and the jail, fund the maintenance of land records and personal records, run elections, and so much more.
Since COVID-19, not only has overall spending declined, but many more people are doing their shopping online, again, leading to a reduction in sales tax revenues to maintain those core functions of county government. Further, even as we move toward recovery, many of those who have shopped online for the last several months are likely to continue their online shopping habits.
The Impact of Higher Education on Our Community
An issue that resonated for Boone County and several other jurisdictions in the focus group was the impact on community-wide recovery by the future of the University and the other institutions of higher learning. Matt Jenne noted that the economics of Boone County is driven by college students. Student housing, restaurants and bars, especially in the downtown area, retail establishments, hotels for events including sports, the arts and entertainment, are all impacted by what happens at MU, Stephens, Columbia College and Moberly Area Community College. Our vulnerability, our Achilles’ heel, is the University—if its economic future looks dim, so does that of the community at large.
But Matt and Brian Whorley both noted that what might be perceived as the Achilles’ Heel can be the beacon of light to elevate and enhance the recovery of the entire community. As Matt noted, our community might be deemed vulnerable if the learning experience goes entirely online or virtual because that means that fewer people are utilizing the housing, food, retail, and entertainment opportunities of our community.
But, even with an educational experience that is mostly virtual, at a land grant university like ours, we have more opportunities for learning concentrated in our community than almost any place in the country. Where else is there a research reactor, a Journalism School, a Law School, a Vet School, a Medical School, and research centers from business to swine research? For Matt, the vulnerability is that we aren’t fully promoting our assets, including the research and development by faculty, students, and private companies that have allied themselves with the University that continue to flourish in our community. Brian echoed Matt’s comments, focusing on the community assets that still exist in Boone County, even in the midst of COVID-19.
Acknowledging Our Assets
Brian noted that this community is one that serves technology and innovation through its strong research “bench” both in the University and the private sector, and in the support of organizations like the various Chambers of Commerce and REDI. That support, combined with a lower cost of living and a wide range of amenities, makes the area ripe for growth. Brian pointed out that in the world of COVID-19, where Zoom or WebEx makes communication fluid as long as you have adequate internet access, being located in NYC or California are less advantageous.
Thus, people in the start-up sector are considering a move to places like Boone County. As Matt had said, it’s a question of marketing our community to attract those businesses and individuals. And, as all of the representatives on the focus group had stated, it’s contingent upon our having reliable and adequate broadband access.
The Importance of Communication
Stacey Button confirmed the need for better messaging—inside and outside the community—to position us for a stronger recovery in a COVID-19 world. She noted that, while there has been communication to minority and women-owned businesses about resources, including federal and state grant funding and opportunities for innovation and creative solutions to identified needs, that communication could be improved. At the same time, REDI has become a center for connecting businesses with resources and connecting workers with jobs.
When needs are articulated, whether it’s personal protective equipment (PPE) or the staples of everyday life, like milk, businesses are pivoting, finding ways to re-tool their production lines to meet identified needs. Stacey also agreed that the quality of life in this community is something that continues to be an asset that will draw people from across the country and encourage them to move to Boone County.
The Impact on Housing and Retail Sectors
Ted Webber, a local realtor who specializes in the residential market and co-hosts the Real Estate show on KFRU every Saturday, spoke about the current market, and offered some insights about what those market trends might reveal. Ted noted that the inventory of houses available for sale has dropped by about 40% from the level seen in 2019. While he would usually see 800-900 houses on the market, today that number is around 500. His conversations with potential sellers have revealed that, since COVID-19 hit, more people have decided not to put their houses on the market, by and large because they didn’t want to have people in their houses.
If they have made any changes, it has likely been to remodel. Craftspeople and remodelers are therefore experiencing huge amounts of work. Ted stated that houses marketed at $300,000 or less are moving very quickly and that it’s a seller’s market. Higher priced houses, although moving a bit more slowly, are nonetheless moving. When asked who the buyers of all of these houses are, Ted revealed that most of the buyers are new to the community, coming here for new jobs. He indicated that, to his knowledge, very few of those individuals had been impacted by layoffs in local businesses and institutions.
Paul Land, who specializes in commercial realty, stated that, as COVID-19 took root in our local community, he and some others began a communication process in earnest, encouraging the commercial real estate community to make decisions in 30-day increments, and, especially for those with resources, to “step up and do good.” As Land stated, when someone has been good to you, has always been on time with their rent, and has worked well with you, the season of pandemic is a time to do the right thing.
That attitude has helped many of those in the business community to survive—through rent forgiveness, short-term rent relief, the Payroll Protection Program and more. These solutions have helped to stave off fear, both in business owners and in their workers. Land noted that there hasn’t been a one-size-fits-all solution since the businesses involved are so different, but, as long as businesses are willing to pivot, to make a change, to adapt to the orders put in place by the Health Department, they can manage the damage done by the virus and they can survive.
Land acknowledged that the hospitality and retail sectors have taken the biggest hits but believes every industry will have to develop its own protocols that work for that industry. A willingness to adapt is key to survival. He noted that some of the changes that have already and will continue to occur, like teleworking, can be unsettling since the picture this creates, with parking lots 20% full, is not what we are used to. But, Land reiterated, it’s all about learning to live with change.
Health and Other Service Needs
What our local social service experts and representatives in the focus groups spoke about with one voice is the coming wave of need that will hit local service providers as individuals and families begin to feel the full effect of the end of the moratorium on foreclosures, repayment of utilities, rent forgiveness, and their need for health and behavioral health services.
They also spoke to an issue that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has identified as a critical need to ensure the economic health of a community. Even in times not affected by a global pandemic, across the board access to quality childcare is essential.
All agreed that the brunt of the wave of need for resources will hit local communities hardest, with local providers and local governments expected to manage the outsized request for services. In many states, Missouri included, state legislators and governors have acknowledged the fiscal impact of the pandemic in part by cutting budgets in two areas—higher education and social services. Thus, while the need will have grown exponentially, the resources will have been cut.
How Can NACo Help?
At the end of the national focus group meeting, we participants were asked how NACo and the Gates Foundation could help us navigate the economic impacts of COVID-19 on our communities. We reiterated our request that Broadband access be front and center for the federal government, with transparency and accountability in the implementation of any plan being of primary importance. We noted that rural electric cooperatives had done similar work in the early 20th century and thus, the model for success exists.
We asked for technical support from NACo and the Gates Foundation and for peer support from jurisdictions across the country, to learn from our colleagues who have already experienced some success in finding a path forward. And, we asked that our voices be heard––because we are the boots on the ground. We live in our communities, we are the ones who know our communities best, and we are the ones most dedicated to ensuring that the needs of our local communities are met. I’m confident that NACo is a hugely valuable partner in that process.
I grew up in and around the hospitals in Boone County. I still remember my physician Mom running the Emergency Room at what was then called the “Medical Center,” her first gig here in Columbia, and my Dad as the Chair of the Urology Department at that hospital, where he remained until his death in the mid-1970’s. But despite my parents’ professional ties to University Hospital, I had a proverbial foot in Boone Hospital as well. Boone was my Dad’s hospital of choice for several cardiac episodes, and I came to know it well, in addition to Regional Hospital (as it was then known), before his death.
I knew early on how fortunate I was to live in a community that had such assets—on one side of town, a teaching and research hospital, and on the other side of town, decades before Regional/”Women’s and Childrens’” was built, another hospital that served as the backbone for the region, a hospital with the core purpose of serving EVERYONE in the community. Not only did I learn about these assets firsthand, I was taught that these assets, their core values, and purposes must be maintained.
Over the last few years, I’ve gained another perspective that further adds to my understanding of how precious these assets are to our community.
My brother Ian currently serves as the hospital administrator for a large hospital in San Antonio, Texas. As some of you will know, Ian comes to this position after a first career as a urologist in the Army Medical Corps, then as Chief of Urology at the University of Texas, San Antonio, and decades as an internationally-known oncologist, When he began his newest “career,” he brought with him those decades of practice, but he also brought the understanding, as did I, of growing up in a time and in a community largely defined by its medical care.
A Brief History of Boone Hospital
A “Cliff Notes” version of the history of the Boone Hospital might be helpful in better understanding its current situation. In 1917, the state legislature first authorized counties to issue bonds to fund the building of health facilities. Dr. Frank Nifong, a strong proponent of this statutory change, would later be named the first medical chief of the subsequently named Boone Hospital. With the new statute in place, Boone County was among the first in Missouri to pursue this opportunity, and, on April 29, 1919, Boone County voters approved bonding for $100,000 to build the new hospital.
Five appointed trustees selected a site—four acres along East Broadway—and, after discovering that additional funds would be needed to build the hospital, asked voters to approve another $75,000 in bonds to build a 40-bed hospital. With voter approval, construction began May 30, 1920 and the hospital opened in December 1921, where on Christmas Eve, David Etheridge became the first “Boone Baby.”
Although expanded over time, the original hospital building still stands on the Boone Hospital site. Five trustees, now elected by Boone County voters, are responsible for the management of the hospital. In recent history, however, the trustees entered into a negotiated, leased-management agreement with St. Louis-based BJC Healthcare, one of the nation’s largest nonprofit healthcare organizations. As part of the agreement, the County of Boone receives an annual payment in recognition of its ownership of and the initial investment in Boone Hospital made by the people of Boone County. Of that annual payment, a portion goes into the general revenue fund and a portion is designated specifically for healthcare-related issues in the county.
As the leadership of BJC Healthcare indicated their desire to end the lease agreement, the trustees began to seriously explore options and opportunities—another lease with a different company? A stand-alone hospital? Far from being a simple decision, the timing of the decision, even pre-COVID-19, added layers of complexity to the process.
The Intervening Factors That Brought Us to This Point
Until the passage of Amendment 2 on August 4, Missouri had not expanded Medicaid even though 38 states, including all surrounding states, had already done so. Failure to expand Medicaid created several problems for hospitals:
First, it led to the demise of many smaller hospitals around the state since those hospitals were still providing care to individuals who arrived in their emergency rooms but were unable to pay. This uncompensated care cost was a liability that few hospitals could absorb. Even a hospital as well-resourced as Boone Hospital has felt this impact.
Second, since BJC is headquartered in St. Louis and, because Illinois had expanded Medicaid, it undoubtedly made financial sense for BJC to focus its attention on metro-St. Louis and Illinois rather than on mid-Missouri and Boone Hospital.
Another factor that the trustees have had to consider as they navigate toward a new reality for Boone Hospital is that, through the years, the delivery of medical services has changed drastically. No longer is the hospital the only place in which medical care is dispensed. Even surgeries that traditionally were performed in hospital operating rooms have often been moved to operating suites within private physician offices.
With the advent of COVID-19, we have seen a further erosion of the reliance on hospitals as a bastion of medical care, as telemedicine has taken hold on a scale heretofore uncontemplated by even the most forward-thinking service providers.
A Pathway to the Future
As has been reported often and thoroughly, the trustees have explored and rejected the path for Boone Hospital that would have placed leadership in the hands of an outside corporation through another lease agreement. Instead, the trustees have started down the path toward a stand-alone hospital, one that would give Boone Countians—and indeed, people from around the region—an alternative to University Hospital for the delivery of high-quality medical care and first-rate surgical experiences. While neither writing in stone nor signing on the proverbial dotted line, the trustees have promised to continue the commitment to the community, in the form of the annual payment to the County that had occurred under the BJC lease.
For this new form of management to succeed, several things must occur: First, as my brother Ian discovered as he took over the hospital in San Antonio, the trustees must reach out to the physicians in Boone County and bring them back into the fold. Even as the practice of medicine has changed, everyone understands the need for the hospital, and both sides of the equation—both the hospital administrators and the physicians—must come together to find that economic and medical balancing point where private practice and the hospital can be sustained and can thrive. Having trustees who have been part of the medical community here in Boone County and are well-respected by their peers is an asset that cannot be under-valued. They can and must reach out to their colleagues to bridge the divide that has grown in recent years under BJC’s leadership.
Second, as the trustees have already indicated, their skillset must be amplified by community members with expertise in finance, information technology, and similar fields in order to position Boone Hospital for growth and success.
Third, the trustees must work with University Hospital to find a way to ensure that both hospital systems can thrive. The patient base for these hospitals is not just local, it is regional.
Finally, it is incumbent upon us, the people of Boone County, to support this hospital as it embarks on a new pathway forward.
Boone Hospital has been and remains a crown jewel in our community. It has faithfully served generations of Boone Countians and we remain its stalwart champions. Its dedicated staff continue to provide excellent care for all who enter its doors. I know that is why my Dad chose Boone for his care. That is why my brother and I chose Boone for our Mom’s care in her final days. So many Boone County and mid-Missouri families feel as we do. Boone Hospital’s future depends on our widespread support as we undertake a new management model in a new healthcare era. The future of Boone Hospital is up to all of us.
Supporting Boone seems only right.
Over the last weeks and months, we have heard the demands across the country to change how law enforcement does its job. Locally, community members have rallied and spoken about practices that disproportionately impact people of color. At the same time, others in our community and across the country have spoken to the need to support law enforcement, pointing to departments with limited numbers of officers available within the community or available to staff detention facilities.
While these groups may seem to have interests that are polar opposites, there is a middle ground where law enforcement officers CAN “serve and protect” and CAN demonstrate a fundamental respect for those with whom they interact. A big part of that equation is providing law enforcement with the resources they need—and I’m not talking about weapons. I’m talking about training and other resources. And, yes, I’m talking about more officers too.
This topic was front and center for me yesterday, July 28th, as I listened to my friend and colleague, Steve Hollis, the Human Services Manager for the City/County Health Department, participate in a webinar sponsored by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) GAINS Center for Behavioral Health and Justice Transformation, a Center within the US Department of Health and Human Services. The topic of the webinar was data sharing, particularly among law enforcement, behavioral health, and other social service agencies. In his presentation, Steve focused on the work that we have been doing here in Boone County, work on which I am passionately committed. He started that discussion by listing many of the projects in which we have been engaged since 2014, when Boone County joined the National Association of Counties’ (NACo’s) Stepping Up Initiative.
The Stepping Up Initiative was created because of the disproportionate rate at which individuals with behavioral health issues across the country are involved in the criminal justice system and detained in our county jails. These individuals are detained for longer periods of time, re-offend at higher rates, and have worse results than other individuals facing the same charges.
I recognized that Boone County was no different in this respect than other jurisdictions. Our jail was the largest mental health facility in the county, and more resources—from law enforcement, to prosecutors and public defenders, to the court system, to the jail itself—were expended on this population. This further meant that our annual county budget was significantly impacted, as such a large percentage of revenues fund those core governmental activities.
Given those individual and community impacts, we knew we had to do better. I knew we COULD do better. So, I took the lead in joining the Stepping Up Initiative and together, with many partners, we began the journey. Steve’s listing of Boone County’s projects and activities was, in large part, an acknowledgement and celebration of those partnerships and collaborations over the past six years.
Do we need more resources? The answer is a resounding YES. We must critically analyze how people become involved in the justice system—from juveniles to adults—and determine what resources will keep them from that trajectory. We must give law enforcement the resources necessary, from training to personnel, to help them make appropriate decisions. And we must continue the candid, open conversations, knowing that only through authentic conversations can we implement positive change.
For additional information regarding the Stepping Up Initiative in Boone County and Janet’s involvement in it, see the following media links:
Boone County Commissioner Appointed to National Committee
(Boone County Journal, July 29, 2020)
Data-Driven Justice Community Portrait: Commissioner Janet Thompson
(National Association of Counties, June 30, 2020)
Boone County Works To Provide Mental Health Programs To The Community
(Columbia Missourian, Jan 20, 2020)
Stepping Up Initiative: Special Topics Case Studies
(National Association of Counties, Dec 12, 2019)
Boone County Joins White House’s Data-Driven Justice Initiative
(ShowMeBoone.com Press Release, Oct 19, 2016)
Boone County Steps Up On Mental Health Issues
(KOMU, Oct 6, 2016)
Thompson Hopes to Continue Mental Health Initiative With Second Term
(Columbia Tribune, Oct 2, 2016)
Special Report: Breaking the Cycle
(ABC17News, May 13, 2016)
Originally posted on July 28, 2020.
Early last week, as I was coming out of a grocery store in Columbia, I heard a familiar voice call, “Hey, Janet!” It was James Gray, pastor, friend, and community advocate. As James does, he quickly began to share what is topmost on his mind these days, the pain—physical and emotional—that so many in our community are experiencing on a daily basis, often with little hope that the clouds will lighten or that a ray of sunshine will come forth.
Talking to Pastor Gray reminded me of several meetings I had last year with him and with Shaunda Hamilton. Shaunda transformed her pain after the tragic death of her daughter in September 2019, into community action, with the creation of Boone County Community Against Violence. Both Shaunda and Pastor Gray have recognized, on so many levels, the impact of violence on individuals, families, and the community at large. ]And Pastor Gray has spoken not merely of the violence but also on the lack of connection between people as being at the core of the problem.
That day in front of the grocery store, Pastor Gray told me that he was planning a meeting on July 24th at the Armory parking lot and that people would be gathering to talk of hope and inspiration. He saw this as one way of urging the clouds to clear and a ray of sunshine to emerge. I joined a small group of people that evening both searching for and trying to provide the hope and inspiration that Pastor Gray sought for in the community. Among the speakers he had called together were Columbia Mayor Brian Treece, Shelter Insurance President Matt Moore, Columbia Police Lieutenant Mike Hestir, and MU Men’s Basketball Head Coach, Cuonzo Martin.
My words echoed those of many of the other speakers. I told those present that the gathering recalled for me something my brother Ian, now a hospital administrator in San Antonio, had recently quoted to the people of Bexar County: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”
Those first two commandments are pretty straight forward, right? You’d think so, but, as Ian’s comments suggested, it’s in the implementation, particularly as to that pesky second commandment, that we sometimes get wrapped around the axle. Who is “thy neighbor” and what does it mean to “love” in the context of these times in which we live, of violence and pandemic.
As the speakers last Friday night so eloquently told those gathered, “thy neighbor” isn’t just the person next door. It isn’t just the person who looks like me, talks like I do, wears the same kind of clothes, eats the same kind of food, believes the same things, speaks the same language, or grew up with the same shared experiences. “Thy neighbor” means everyone.
Just as important, to “love” isn’t some esoteric emotion. As Coach Martin and Matt Moore told us, that “love” is believing in another person, telling that person that he or she can meet goals and reach for the stars, making sure that a young person has a square meal, and the resources and tools to attain those goals. And, as my brother Ian told the people of Bexar County, right now, to “love” your neighbor also means wearing a mask. It’s one of those visible signs that you value other people, that you care about and for them.
Whether you are a person of faith or not, I suspect that one of your core values is to “love your neighbor as yourself.” The challenge for each of us, in Boone County and beyond, is to discern who is our “neighbor” and how we can live up to our responsibility to “love” our neighbor as ourselves. If each day we try to make one more decision based on that rule, maybe, just maybe, the pain that Shaunda has felt and the pain that Pastor Gray witnesses day after day will diminish.
Originally posted on July 20, 2020.
It’s probably fair to say that no one fully anticipated the turmoil, uncertainty, or changes affecting our lives over the last several months. All of us have experienced the challenges of a worldwide pandemic and the struggle of how to deal with it here at home in Boone County. And campaigns are no exception. It would be irresponsible of me (not to mention foolish) to hold events, group meetings, or other traditional, in-person activities typically involved in an election campaign, as if nothing had changed.
While this has made things a little complicated, the importance of electing and keeping good leaders, who make decisions based on science and valid data, has not diminished. In fact, competent leadership has never been so important.
We may have had to throw traditional campaign events out the window, but I would still love to hear from you and would welcome your support and participation in my re-election campaign. I am facing four Republican challengers in the August Primary, any of whom will make for tough competition in November.
We will need to be creative in making sure our message is adequately communicated to all voters, regardless of how they get their information, so that each voter can make an informed choice. Of course, I hope that choice is me, come November 2!
If you could help with a campaign contribution by clicking the link below...
or by mailing a check to:
Janet Thompson for Boone County
PO BOX 535
Columbia, MO 65205
I’ll do everything I can to let voters know who I am, why I am their best choice for Northern District County Commissioner, and how I envision making Boone County a safe, secure home for today’s—and tomorrow’s—citizens.
Thank you! Stay well!
Originally posted on July 16, 2020.
Recently I was asked by the Boone County Farm Bureau to create a video to introduce myself to its members and talk about topics that are important to my campaign. While I could have listed the standard, vague talking points that politicians typically recite, I decided to use the opportunity to focus on one issue about which I care deeply—a topic that usually doesn’t get much attention, especially during a campaign. That issue for me is mental health.
We cut the video down to its required 4-minute length which you can view here, but I wanted to share the slightly longer version with all of you. This issue affects so many of us, but for many reasons it is often ignored and too seldom seen as a topic worthy of political discussion. It’s that discomfort with the topic—or maybe the skepticism in bringing it up in an election campaign—that spurs the need to discuss it. Sure, county commissioners still must deal with maintaining roads and bridges and the day-to-day work of keeping a county the size of Boone running, but a modern commission has the responsibility to do much more.
So, please take a minute to watch my full video. I pledge to continue to fight for those in need around Boone County, and with your faith and support, we can do it together.
If you want to help make a direct impact on those in need in and around Boone County, I encourage you to make a contribution to CoMoHelps.org.
If you would like to support my campaign, you can always contribute through the link below.
Thank you for your confidence and support!
Originally posted on July 13, 2020.
In the space of about a week, Boone County lost two educators and life-long learners, Alice Neihardt Thompson and Margaret Sayers “Petch” Peden. Conversation and activity in the Great Beyond is undoubtedly much more vibrant with the addition of these two extraordinary women. I was fortunate to know both of these women for most of my life. Throughout my life, they encouraged in me the love for and dedication to learning.
Alice Neihardt Thompson was the youngest of four children born to John Neihardt and Mona Martinson Neihardt. Dr. Neihardt, the poet laureate of Nebraska, author of Black Elk Speaks and a wealth of lyric poetry, included in his long and storied career years of teaching in the English Department at the University of Missouri, and passed his love of teaching along to his daughter. Mrs. Neihardt, a renowned sculptor who, as a young woman, had studied in Paris with Auguste Rodin, added her love of and respect for physical beauty to the makeup of the young Alice. Alice served her country as a WAVE in World War II; studied dance with Madame Cassan (herself a student of the immortal Anna Pavlova); danced professionally, but then, at her parents’ SkyRim Farm just north of Columbia, found the place where beauty, teaching and learning intersected—as, for over five decades, she trained American Saddlebred horses and taught others to ride, respect and understand these beautiful animals.
My first exposure to Alice Thompson was as a horse-crazy four-year-old whose older brother had been given a series of riding lessons. As Ian was mounted on one of the lesson horses, I was told that I was too young and would have to wait until I, too, was seven, before I could take lessons.
Despite throwing myself onto the ground in the middle of the barn lot, and having what can only be termed a “hissy fit,” I didn’t get my way. In fact, Alice (who I always called “Mrs. Thompson”), and my Mom, stepped OVER me and ignored the fit. Lesson learned. Hissy fits don’t work. Learn by watching Ian. Keep everyone on board to get lessons when I turned seven.
Lessons began. Ian and I rode with Nancy and Sally Bass, then with Debbie and Cindy Marks, first on the school ponies, then on school horses, and finally, on some of the exquisitely beautiful American Saddlebreds. And ultimately, our parents bit the bullet and we acquired one, two, and then “more” Saddlebreds. Each horse, and each teacher—from Alice Thompson and her long-time partner Uncle Dick Cook, to Annie Lawson Cowgill, to Deborah Booker, to Sue Allmart and a whole host of others—provided insights, gave ideas, and encouraged us to expand our skills and our ability to connect with different horses. And even now, almost six decades after that “hissy fit,” I still ride or drive horses, clean stalls and feed every day. And yes, the horses eat their dinner before I do.
My first exposure to Petch (who I always called Sra. Peden) was through my Mom, who, preparing for our family to move to Barcelona, took Spanish lessons from Petch so that she could keep our family functioning in that city while my Dad took a sabbatical, studying with a renowned Urologist who practiced there. Upon our return to Columbia, it was Petch to whom Mom turned for help in keeping Ian’s and my knowledge of Spanish up to snuff. It was Petch who helped Ian and me navigate the hoops to take classes in Spanish at MU while we attended the Lab School. It was Petch who later ever-so-subtly encouraged an undergraduate and then graduate degree programs in Spanish. It was Petch who opened doors and opened my mind to possibilities by facilitating discussions with people like Carlos Fuentes and Mario Vargas Llosa. It was through Petch and Bill Peden that my appreciation for literature and the importance of carefully-chosen words experienced exponential growth. It was Petch, then, now and always, who was one of the “role models,” and “other moms,” classy, strong, funny, who could always be counted on to transform a thunderstorm into a teaching moment. And she could always make things better with a Coke and something chocolate.
I used to say that, when you stop learning, you are dead. I was wrong. I had forgotten the life lessons from Alice and Petch. If you aren’t learning, you’ve never been fully alive. In these times, more than ever, it’s so important that we accept the challenge and continually pursue the gift of learning.
Originally posted on July 8, 2020.
When I was six years old, my Mom loaded up our family’s station wagon, put me in the back seat and my brother Ian, in the front seat beside her, and began the long drive to Alabama to visit her Mom, her sister Dot, her brother John and their families.
My Dad, who was the Chair of the Urology Department at the University of Missouri, had too much on his professional plate to spare the time to spend a couple of weeks in Montgomery and then at Mom’s Aunt Maude’s house in Foley. But, he did his part for the journey, getting a mechanic to go over the car and buying all new tires.
When we were an hour or so north of Montgomery, Mom saw a sign advertising ripe peaches and she pulled over to buy enough to provide peach pies and peach ice cream for every single family member to enjoy. As we pulled back onto the highway, the air in the car was redolent with the rich smell of ripe peaches.
As we drove south, we talked of who we would see and what we would do on this family vacation. And then, BAM! BAM! BAM! Three of the band-box new tires blew at the same time. And Mom, albeit a great driver, couldn’t control the car. It plunged down the near vertical drop, rolling again and again, finally coming to rest at the bottom of what, to my six-year-old eyes, looked like the Grand Canyon.
Since the car had landed on its back, Ian and I had some difficulties unbuckling our seat belts but, finally managed it, and, Ian went up the hill to try to flag down passers-by while I stayed with Mom, who was sliding in and out of consciousness, having sustained many serious injuries.
Mom spent most of that summer in the hospital in Montgomery, first in the ICU and then in a regular room.
Ian and I spent over a month in Montgomery, living with our Aunt Dot, one of Mom’s sisters, and her husband, Uncle Jimmy. Each day, they took us to see Mom in the hospital. I didn’t know it at the time but they feared Mom wouldn’t make it and they wanted to make sure we had told her each day that we loved her.
Even during the first few days after the accident, the one thing we heard over and over again, was that, had the three of us not been wearing our seat belts, we would all have been dead. As it was, Ian and I had just sustained scratches, and although Mom’s injuries were severe, she survived.
In our family, seat belts have never been optional. You get in a vehicle, you fasten your seat belt. And maybe that horrific experience on a road in Alabama influenced not only our family’s default position on seat belts, but also Mom’s decision, while raising a family and practicing medicine full time, to gain her Master’s degree in Public Health from the University of Missouri.
On the national stage, health and safety professionals have presented data and shown legislators and big business that seat belts should be required in all vehicles (even my John Deere tractor has a seat belt!). Seat belts are now installed in all vehicles. They save lives. And, since the 1960’s, they are much more effective since they have evolved from the lap belts of that time to the combined lap and shoulder belts of the present era.
The discussion about seat belts wasn’t the first public health issue to percolate its way onto the national stage. As early as 1905, in Jacobson v. Massachusetts, 197 U.S. 11 (1905), the United States Supreme Court held that government could act to protect the “public” health, through collective action. In that case, the Court upheld a local ordinance requiring that individuals be vaccinated for smallpox during a smallpox epidemic. The underlying rationale for the decision was, in part, that what happens to individuals impacts the collective body, and that individual rights will not be read categorically to trump the collective well-being.
Since Jacobson, on the national, state, and local levels, we routinely see implementation of rules with public health implications. Their focus is wide-ranging, from infectious disease, to causes of chronic disease, to causes of motor vehicle accidents—speeding, drinking while driving--, and on and on.
Part of the current debate in this country and in this county is whether government has the authority to issue a so-called “mask” order. Short answer is “yes,” the government DOES have that authority, as the Supreme Court recognized starting in 1905. This authority has led to:
* Seat belts
* Speed limits
* Safety glass in automobile windshields
* Polio vaccinations
* Smallpox vaccinations
...and a whole host of other initiatives that enhance public health and safety.
My Mom’s life—and almost death—experience undoubtedly led to her support for and lobbying efforts on behalf of other public health and safety issues—such as the requirement of safety glass in automobile windshields. For that particular issue, Mom had to address the opposition’s claims that safety glass cost more, making vehicles more expensive for individuals and businesses to purchase. Mom and others involved in the push for change asked legislators to balance the relatively small cost of the different glass against the health benefits—saving people in accidents from being injured by shards of glass as the windshield broke.
My brother, who served in the Army for 30 years before retiring as a “full bird” colonel, and who is now a hospital administrator for a hospital designated for COVID-19 patients in San Antonio, recently told the people of his county, “wear a mask.” He, and public health professionals across the globe are all too aware that we don’t have many tools to fight this bug. But, one of the tools that we DO have that can help stop the spread is wearing a mask.
So, my question to you is—when we KNOW that wearing a mask will help stop the spread of this deadly disease, why aren’t we all wearing one? It’s no different than wearing a seat belt or driving the speed limit. It saves lives.
Originally posted on July 4, 2020.
As Benjamin Franklin left the Constitutional Convention, a woman supposedly asked, Mr. Franklin, what form of government have you given us?” He purportedly responded, “A republic, madam, if you can keep it.” His response referred not merely to the kind of government the Framers had created but also acknowledged that this experiment would not be easy, nor should be become complacent as the experiment evolved.
A system of government such as ours requires care and it requires engagement. Engagement can mean voting, or running for office, or pursuing other ways of holding government accountable. But, at its core, it means living into the fundamental promises articulated by the Founders— that all people are created equal, endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights— including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
It also means understanding that the Constitution is a living and breathing document, one that allows us to expand and adapt our earlier understanding and implementation of our core rights to fully live into our promise to become a beacon of light to the world.
Let us engage in civil discourse and learn from these changing times so that, as Mr. Franklin stated, we can “keep” that unique experiment alive.
I also hope you'll enjoy this video from the Parley P. Pratt Freedom Run, of Mel West answering the question of "What does Independence Day mean to you?"
Happy Independence Day to you all.
Originally posted on June 19, 2020.
In the midst of a worldwide pandemic, economic instability, and the chaos erupting in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, I did not believe that fundraising for my re-election campaign as Boone County’s Northern District Commissioner was at all appropriate. I would have been embarrassed to ask my friends and neighbors for money with so much uncertainty in everyone’s lives.
Uncertainty remains, but the cold, hard reality is that the issues affecting our nation also affect us here at home in Boone County, as we see the tragic consequences that result from poor, insufficient, and delayed leadership.
In addition to the routine and statutory duties of a County Commissioner, I have spent much of my time as Northern District Commissioner trying to protect the most vulnerable citizens of Boone County, working to:
I know that you and I share a commitment to Boone County. That is why I am asking you to place your confidence in me again. It’s imperative that we not turn our county over to those who refuse to even acknowledge that many citizens continue to face serious inequities due to their race or economic condition.
We cannot turn our county over to those who want to ignore the impact that mental illness and depression have on our rural—and urban—communities alike. We cannot afford to turn our county over to those who believe incarceration is the only means of ensuring citizen safety.
Over the past year, we have seen that electing leaders who reject science-based safety standards or who attack public officials whose only job it is to protect our citizens is a real consequence of local elections.
That is why I feel I must do what I’ll admit I find distasteful, and ask you now for your support. A gift in any amount will help me prepare to immediately counter one of the four Republican candidates emerging from the August Primary Election. No election is without consequences, but this election, in these times, feels especially important if Boone County is to move forward as a fiscally responsible and solvent county in which all citizens feel their safety and their needs are addressed equally.
I know your financial support is a sacrifice. I take that responsibility seriously. Thank you for considering a contribution to my campaign. Contributions may be made online at
or by check to:
Janet Thompson for Boone County
PO Box 535
Columbia MO 65205
I have always and will continue to serve you and all of Boone County to the very best of my ability.