COLUMBIA — The candidates for City Council and the candidates for school board faced scrutiny Tuesday night about pay disparity, stimulus money, citizen review boards and curfews. One candidate even volunteered to be shocked by a Taser.
The Columbia chapter of the NAACP hosted a candidate forum for the school board candidates and the four City Council candidates at Second Baptist Church. The roughly 25 people who attended submitted questions tailored to First Ward concerns.
The candidates for City Council Second Ward, Jason Thornhill and Allan Sharrock, came. Rob Robison and incumbent Barbara Hoppe were also present as candidates for the Sixth Ward. The First Ward seat is not up for election this year.
Candidates for school board who attended were Marc Bledsoe, Michelle Pruitt, Greg Flippin, Sam Phillips, Christine King, Jeannine Craig and Adam Sorg.
Questions were written down by audience members and then asked by the forum moderator.
The candidates were asked how stimulus money would be used in the First Ward. Barbara Hoppe, who currently serves on the City Council, referenced a plan that was proposed to provide insulation for houses in the First Ward to cut down on energy costs. Hoppe also mentioned a fund to repair sidewalks in the First Ward and the Columbia Farmers' Market pavilion project as ways to use stimulus money effectively in the First Ward.
Jason Thornhill, running in the Second Ward, said it was important to improve public transportation in the First Ward.
Community discussion about the Columbia Police Department's use of Tasers presented itself in a question about the appropriate use of the stun guns by the Police Department. Policies regarding Tasers were a "work in progress," Thornhill said. "I think the Columbia Police Department has come around to the fact they weren't prepared to use them."
Second Ward candidate Allan Sharrock offered to be shocked for charity, saying he thought Tasers were safe and would be willing to feel what it was like.
When asked about Douglass High School, an alternative public high school, and integrating it back into the regular system, school board candidates differed on how, or if, that process should take place.
Michele Pruitt expressed confusion as to why it was necessary to integrate Douglass into the larger system. Pruitt said the programs for Douglass are for at-risk kids who are "not well served by Hickman and Rock Bridge."
Sam Phillips said they needed to understand the mission of Douglass and ask "Is the concept working?" Both Phillips and Adam Sorg said their first concern was to be an advocate for students and do the most to help them succeed, regardless of what policy that entailed.
One of the questions submitted by the audience asked about the funding cuts affecting the Minority Achievement Committee Scholars program. Phillips and Pruitt both said there needed to be long-term, strategic planning by the board to preserve programs like MAC Scholars. Fiscal responsibility was a reoccurring theme echoed by all school board candidates.
Christine King said MAC Scholars creates mentors and role models. King said she helped write a grant so a group of MAC Scholars could visit a black college.
"(Students) may not understand what education can do for you," said Pruitt.
Some of the candidates for the school board were unaware of the program or said they did not know enough about it to answer the question.
"Shouldn't you know about this as a school board candidate?" asked Robin Hubbard.
Board candidate Marc Bledsoe replied, "If elected, I should know about it as a school board member."