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Columbia Missourian

Boone County candidates answer questions at League of Women Voters forum

By JACKIE BORCHARDT and KRISTINA SHERRY
July 24, 2008 | 11:27 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA - Last night's Boone County candidates forum closed with an easy "softball" question from an audience member: If elected, would candidate Barbara Bishop be Boone County's first female assessor? Bishop responded first: "I would love to set history. I'm probably the first female candidate. So we're probably making history here tonight."

Incumbent Tom Schauwecker thought the answer was probably yes and then pointed out that the majority of county officials are already female, listing the many women he's worked with in his 19 years as assessor.

"I truly find them to be quite intelligent, quite delightful, and very competent and good to work with," he said.

Good answers - because the forum was sponsored by the League of Women Voters. More than 50 people filled the Friends Room at the Columbia Public Library, which co-sponsored the event along with KOPN. The station plans to broadcast the forum before the Aug. 5 primary election.

"The presidential race is on TV every day," League President Elaine Blodgett said. "These county races are the ones that really count. These are the people you call when something isn't right."

Pairs of candidates for the offices of assessor, Southern District commissioner and public administrator gave opening and closing statements and fielded questions from audience members. All are candidates on the Democratic primary ticket.

Mental health needs, regional transportation systems and satellite offices were brought up to county commissioner candidates Karen Miller and Sid Sullivan.

Incumbent Miller spoke from her 16 years of experience as a commissioner. She cited her work with the Internet Technology department to put more government services online so people don't have to drive into Columbia.

Sullivan challenged Miller's leadership during her latest term, noting the purchase of buildings in Columbia for county use.

During the public administrator portion, Dan Dunham and Cathy Richards highlighted their respective strengths. Dunham, who has been an attorney for 28 years, made a case that the job would benefit from a public administrator who knows the law. "What guides you in every case is the court order," he said. "You have to know morally and legally the rights of the people you're dealing with."

Richards, an office manager for the county commission, said she would defer questions regarding the law to the probate attorney.

"The No. 1 priority is the people," she said. "The rest of the things come together."

During the assessor's portion, the two candidates debated the merits of the home sales-price questionnaires, which residents voluntarily fill out at the time of a home purchase. Bishop said she would like to see them eliminated because they can be unfair: Not all homeowners fill them out, and homeowners' responses can cause home appraisal values to increase.

Schauwecker said the questionnaire is an essential tool for accurate appraisals and the Missouri State Tax Commission would never allow any assessor to eliminate the questionnaire. Schauwecker drew chuckles from the audience when he noted that he never hears complaints from residents whose homes are appraised too low.

The League of Women Voters plans to sponsor two more forums in October before the general election.