COLUMBIA — All four First Ward City Council candidates agreed on two things at Saturday’s candidate forum: council members should be compensated for their work and the Columbia Police Department needs a citizen review board.
The Central City Get Out the Vote committee hosted the second of its four forums Saturday afternoon at the Blind Boone Community Center.
Audience members had a chance to directly ask questions of candidates Almeta Crayton, the three-term incumbent; Paul Sturtz, Ragtag and True/False co-founder; Karen Baxter, a licensed practical nurse and former vice president of the Ridgeway Neighborhood Association; and John G. Clark, a certified public accountant and former mayoral candidate.
Currently, council members do not receive a stipend for their work. Crayton said she would support a salary for council members but that she didn’t come into the job hoping to make a profit. Meetings or conventions, though, prompt Crayton to miss work from time to time.
“I’m a single mother and if I take a day off work I don’t get paid,” Crayton said.
Baxter agreed council members should be compensated for their work.
“I believe when you work the long hours that our council works you deserve to get paid,” Baxter said.
Sturtz mentioned another benefit of receiving a salary — it would encourage more people to run for City Council. Citing the unopposed Fifth Ward race, Sturtz said a salary would improve the quality of people running.
“Most sane people don’t want to run for City Council because of the long hours and no pay,” Sturtz said.
Clark said members should not only get paid but there should be more wards, which would lessen the workload on each council member.
First Ward resident Donna Cullimore, who owns a house-cleaning business, was taking notes throughout the forum and said that as the city grows, council members’ responsibilities grow and so should their pay.
“I think Columbia needs to learn that it’s a grown-up city, not a little town,” Cullimore said.
The candidates also supported the Citizen Oversight Committee, which is exploring the possibility of forming a citizen review board for the police department.
Both Baxter and Crayton said speaking with First Ward residents helped them understand the need for citizen oversight of the police.
Sturtz recounted an incident where he felt singled out by police and said it helped him understand citizens’ complaints.
“I have a great amount of sympathy for people who feel they were roughed up by the police,” Sturtz said.
The candidates said overall the police are doing a good job.
“Most of the time I think the police are doing their job, but we need that accountability,” Sturtz said.
Clark said he wants the committee to recommend policies to the police department and hopes for more trust between residents and police.
Audience member Lee Radtke, also a First Ward resident, said it’s important for residents to work with police.
“The issue of interaction with police and the community is a problem that goes very deep,” Radtke said.
Two questions were raised concerning residents who have had utilities cut off after struggling to pay their bills.
Sturtz suggested implementing a program similar to Ameren UE’s, where customers have the option of rounding up their bill with the extra change going to help those in need. Baxter mentioned several existing agencies that provide utility assistance and said the city should work to increase awareness of the agencies. Crayton, citing personal examples of helping residents with bills, said the council is supposed to be an advocate for poor people. Clark said he would like to train city utility employees to better help solve customers’ problems.
Other questions the candidates covered concerned vacant commercial and residential properties and meeting with residents to address their problems.
The next forum will be March 8 at 3 p.m. at the Salvation Army building, 1108 W Ash St.