MU professor advises eminent domain panel: Columbia (MO) Daily Tribune, 9/30/05

He suggests setting standards for agencies

Associated Press

A law professor yesterday told a group studying eminent domain issues that it should set standards for government agencies to use when seizing property.

Dale Whitman, who teaches at the University of Missouri-Columbia, said those standards should include defining the public benefit, establishing the value of that benefit and holding public hearings.

Those standards could be used and assessed by a court if someone challenged the taking of his or property, Whitman said.

Gov. Matt Blunt set up the committee earlier this year in response to a U.S. Supreme Court decision giving local governments broader powers to seize private property for tax revenue-generating private developments such as shopping malls.

The task force is charged with studying Missouri law to see whether changes need to be made to protect private property owners. Its goal is to offer criteria defining appropriate public use for when state and local governments consider seizing property.

Members asked Whitman how the definition of "public use" should change.

"Where’s that line cross to be a good project for a community?" asked Chris Goodson of St. Louis, a developer and owner The Goodson Co., a promotional products business.

Whitman said the task force should be careful in spelling out what public use is. Relying on specific details such as amount of revenue or jobs created isn’t wise because projects and benefits can vary widely, he said.

Whitman said the decision should be left to the agency condemning the property.

He also said getting consultants involved wouldn’t solve much.

"Consultants will find what they are paid to find," he said.

But critics said that public use should not involve taking private property to give to another private entity and that the power of eminent domain should be more restricted.

"The focus should be on use and not compensation and not procedure," said Steven Anderson, an attorney with the Institute for Justice in Washington. "The Constitution isn’t a document to make it easier for developers to make money."

The task force is expected to make recommendations by the end of the year so lawmakers can consider any recommended changes in law when their regular session begins in January.

Daily Tribune: www.columbiatribune.com