Joe Azar

Joe Azar

That was the title of this column on Oct. 19, 2011.

While I received some grief about it from those who felt Joe Azar was nothing more than a political gadfly and eternal candidate for city council and mayor, I felt he was more than that and deserved praise.

That was true for both his interest in and commitment to the city in general, and especially his efforts at that time to bring the insanity of transferring water and sewer fund revenues away from the water and sewer department to the general fund, even as the system crumbled beneath us.

He did that as the plaintiff in a lawsuit against the city, with the state Supreme Court eventually lambasting Columbia City Council for its actions and ordering the case to go to trial. Facing that kind of legal rebuke and the high likelihood of losing at trial, City Council finally stopped the fiscal nonsense and put an end to the transfers.

When word of Joe’s death reached me this week, it prompted me to look back at that long-ago column. Here’s some of what I wrote about him then:

Whether they’re new to the nonsense or long a part of it, all members of Council received a wake-up call last week with the filing of a lawsuit seeking to force them to use water and sewer fund revenues to maintain and improve the water and sewer fund system, as required by law.

The reality is there has always been enough money in the system to fund it, but that money has repeatedly been diverted away from it to bankroll general fund and slush fund expenditures by Council.  

The lawsuit was filed by Joe Azar, a successful Five Points businessman for 25 years (Upstairs Audio), purveyor of a widely distributed local news and comment email forum (The Azar Newsletter) and someone active in numerous local charities and civic organizations.

Regrettably, in an editorial about the lawsuit in The State, Azar was characterized as a ‘perennial candidate for office in the city of Columbia.’

While it is true that Azar has run unsuccessfully for local office for two decades, it unfairly marginalizes him to limit the description of his involvement in the community to that alone.

Though he voices his displeasure with this column on occasion in letters to the editor or his own newsletter, and while he sometimes goes overboard in his criticism of elected officials and others, I’ve always felt Joe is more serious and sincere than many people realize.

He simply wants what he thinks is best for the city, and in many cases – including this one – I agree with him.

If he wins the water and sewer fund battle, either through a legal ruling or a policy change (i.e. City Council voluntarily agrees to stop diverting money away from the water and sewer fund), we will all owe him our thanks.

When it comes to this lawsuit, I say good for Joe Azar. And maybe good for us all.

And it was good for us all. For that, we owe Joe a debt of gratitude.

Whatever he sometimes lacked in style, Azar was a person of serious thought and considerable substance. A citizen activist, and an activist citizen.

Here’s to you, Joe.  

Fisher is president of Fisher Communications, a Columbia advertising and public relations firm. He is active in local issues involving the arts, conservation, business and politics. Let us know what you think: Email

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