City Council candidates talk jobs, economy

Thursday, March 5, 2009 | 6:40 p.m. CST; updated 11:31 p.m. CST, Thursday, March 5, 2009

COLUMBIA – Columbia City Council candidates want the jobs. Not only do they want the City Council job, they want to bring employment opportunities to Columbia.

About 40 residents gathered at the Columbia Chamber of Commerce to hear the views of Barbara Hoppe and Rod Robison, candidates for the Sixth Ward Council seat, and Jason Thornhill and Allan Sharrock, candidates for the Second Ward seat being vacated by incumbent Chris Janku.

Job growth resonated throughout Chamber members' chosen topics, including how should the city provide incentives for new businesses, the proposed construction of the second Callaway nuclear plant and neighborhood involvement in development projects.

While none of the candidates would admit he or she is against job growth, some were more direct about how they would bring businesses to Columbia.

Sharrock, an Iraq veteran and a commander with the Missouri National Guard, said, "On day one, if elected, I request from staff all the lists of incentives from they and the Chamber of Commerce, and I will continue to beat that drum until every recommendation they have for economic development has been passed with an up or down vote."

The other candidates shared similar views, including boosting opportunities associated with "green jobs," as suggested by Hoppe, or taking the time to learn more and examine what others have done to entice employers, as Thornhill and Robison said.

One way to bring more jobs to the region would be the construction of the second nuclear power plant in Callaway. When asked if they would support it, both Second Ward candidates and Robison expressed support for the project, though Sharrock and Robison had a few concerns.

"I support the mayor's letter-writing campaign," Robison said, referencing a letter Mayor Darwin Hindman wrote to AmerenUE President and CEO Thomas Voss expressing interest in the plant.

 "I think there are some questions to be asked of it. ... If they are allowed to raise our rates currently, what if the plant doesn't get built?" Robison said.

Hoppe offered no straightforward response about whether she would support Columbia's involvement with the plant but maintained that the city has not looked at nuclear power as an option because it is not a part of the long-range plan that outlines options for fulfilling Columbia's future energy needs.

"I have a lot of questions about nuclear energy, and I would want to see how the cost and benefits compare to the recommendations (of the long-range plan)," Hoppe said.

What all the candidates were straightforward about was their support of neighbors and neighborhood associations being involved in the development process, a process that many in the development community believe is too cumbersome and hinders the creation of new businesses and jobs.

Hoppe said neighborhood associations should be involved early in the approval process for adjacent developments; Robison echoed the need for folks to participate early on and not just at council meetings.

Thornhill added that no single neighborhood association should have power to deny something of benefit to the larger community, but they should have the right to be involved. Sharrock pushed for clear expectations to be set from the beginning, so that developers would not need to guess what the Planning and Zoning Commission might be thinking.

Jim Matteson of Prudential Vision Properties came to support Thornhill, a fellow real estate agent and chamber member. Matteson said development dominated talk at the forum, but with "economic conditions as they are, I don't know that development's the biggest issue we've got."

Thornhill, who said he almost called in sick with the flu, agreed economics had taken center stage.

"You simply can't turn on the news without (hearing) some negative connotation about the economy," Thornhill said.

Thornhill drew a distinction between his leadership experience as a small business owner and opponent Sharrock's military leadership experience.

"I really do think that a person has to have a business mind as a member of the council," he said.

Sharrock said that while Columbia's unemployment remains low, the council needs to be proactive to protect the resilience of the local economy.

"I feel very confident that I came out strong on the issues and that I have a good plan," he said.

Both Second Ward candidates said they were impressed with the performance of Sixth Ward challenger Rod Robison.

Robison said he felt his grasp of the issues and ability to communicate them in public had improved over the course of the campaign. He said he's reading up on issues as he gears up to take on Hoppe.

Hoppe argued for a wholistic approach to development that sought to balance the economy, the community and the environment. In terms of the economy, she said, the city needed to "continue what we're doing right and look at the big picture."

As the only incumbent, Hoppe said she felt "there was a lack of knowledge about what we've been doing" in the council.

"They were suggesting things that we were already doing and have been doing," Hoppe said. Examples she gave included funding for the Police Department and visioning and community involvement.

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Ayn Rand March 6, 2009 | 6:54 a.m.

Before Hoppe and others hold up -- for the umpteenth time -- IBM's data center in Dubuque as an example of how a city's green policies attract jobs, let's remember that the IBM never said -- such as in its press release -- that those policies were a decisive factor in its choice. No doubt the bigger factor was the $52 million in incentives from Dubuque and Iowa. So was the city's colleges, which IBM did single out in interviews as a key factor.

Energy efficiency is great, but it's not a major asset in terms of attracting and retaining major employers.

(Report Comment)
Tim Dance March 7, 2009 | 12:34 a.m.

It was their city manager and mayor that said green policies was a key factor in deciding to locate to their city. As for the corporate welfare, Columbia shouldn't play that game. That would be socialism don't you know. I do find it funny that both 2nd ward candidates had to prop up Robinson. They must support candidates that are ignorant of the most basic of city services like bus service. Robinson has never been part of a neighborhood association or a city commission. They are so out of touch, they are suggesting polices that are already have been implemented, talk about not doing your homework. Asking the 6th ward to fire Hoppe and hire Robinson is an insult to our collected intelligence.
I don't think "balance" is having 6 men on the council as opposed to 5, nor do I think replacing an accessible, knowledgeable council person for one that is ignorant of how the city works is very "balancing"

Robinson will go the way of Valerie Barnes....Hoppe will easily be re-elected

(Report Comment)
Ayn Rand March 8, 2009 | 4:41 p.m.

At her Feb. 15 kick-off, Hoppe said; "'I went to a seminar presented by the mayor and city manager of Dubuque, Iowa, who have embraced sustainability. They are working for renewable energy, historic preservation … and thermal power. … And the significant thing is that this creates jobs. They were chosen recently by IBM to have their data center there, and it created 1,300 jobs. Columbia was in competition with them. … It’s a town of 60,000, and they got the data center. We want to create a community where businesses want to come and keep people here who will create businesses.'”

But it was NOT green policies that attracted IBM. Dubuque likes to claim that it is, and Hoppe is parroting them, but IBM never cited the city's green policies as a reason for opening a facility there.

(Report Comment)

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