National Newspaper Week 2019: Think First

On Nov. 5, Liberty voters will have only one measure on the ballot. This measure is not a product of lobbyists, investors or outside interests, but rather a determined and mindful group of local Liberty citizens. It attempts to restrict the number of predatory lending businesses in the city limits by instituting a ratio of one such business per 15,000 residents and increasing the cost of a business license for such lenders from $50 to $5,000, with money going to enforcement of existing law that they educate their customers.

From beginning to end, this initiative has been a product of a group of Northland residents who believe community is what you make it and its laws should reflect that.

The idea behind the initiative started at the annual celebration of the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at William Jewell College. The Rev. Susan McCann challenged AJ and Teresa Byrd, her fellow board members on the Clay County African American Legacy, Inc., along with Seft Hunter of Communities Creating Opportunity to find ways to not only start a larger conversation about the impact of racism in the Northland, but also create a “boots on the ground” group focused on the idea that honor requires action.

In 2015, the Northland Justice Coalition started hosting a forum on race relations in the area. The momentum from those conversations led to a series of four monthly discussions in Liberty in 2018 titled “Troubling the Waters: A Discussion of Race Relations in the Northland.”

The Northland Justice Coalition aims to address issues that disproportionately affect the most vulnerable members of our communities, including minorities, women and the working poor. Predatory lending is just such an issue. These businesses trap borrowers in a debilitating debt cycle, and lenient state laws allow them to charge up to 1,950% APR, which is tantamount to usury, or lending money at an unreasonably high rate.

The Northland Justice Coalition believes that our community has a responsibility to set ethical standards that serve people at every socio-economic level. This is not a partisan issue. It’s a moral one, and we have an obligation to put people over profit.

We started mostly from scratch. We looked to see how other communities passed similar laws. We reached out to lawyers, city workers and community leaders who worked with us to draft a measure specific to Liberty. We developed an initiative petition and information cards, went to local churches and polling places and collected enough signatures — 1,270 — to put this measure on the ballot.

We presented the measure to the City Council and got unanimous approval.

You’ll see us in the coming days, out in the community, encouraging you to vote. I hope you will vote for this measure. You have an opportunity to take part in a real example of government of, by and for the people right here in Liberty.

Oct. 6 to 12, 2019 was National Newspaper Week. In honor of the week, the Courier-Tribune is publishing columns on the five freedoms afforded Americans under the First Amendment throughout October. Abby Zavos is a member of the Northland Justice Coalition, which petitioned Liberty to change its city’s ordinances regarding payday loans, resulting in a forthcoming a ballot question for voters to decide.

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