Columbia Chamber of Commerce hosts forum for City Council candidates

Thursday, February 11, 2010 | 11:15 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — When it comes to electing new City Council representatives, the Columbia Chamber of Commerce is interested in better representation on advisory boards and people who want to use incentives to attract new business. And members would appreciate shorter council meetings.

Eleven of the 12 City Council candidates attended a chamber forum at the Walton Building on Thursday, attracting a crowd. There were separate sessions for those running for mayor and those running for the Third and Fourth Ward seats. The election is April 6.

Frustration with the length and pace of council meetings emerged. During the mayoral candidates’ talks, a question arose about what the city could do to make the meetings more efficient so that more people could be heard.

"After these guys have been listening to four hours of chickens, they're wanting to go home," mayoral candidate Paul Love said, referencing the lengthy debate of the urban hen ordinance Feb. 1. Several such contentious issues over the years have pushed council meetings to more than six hours and into the early morning hours.

Both Love and Jerry Wade, fellow mayoral candidate and Fourth Ward councilman, suggested the council meet more frequently. Wade offered a third meeting each month as an idea.

“If it's frustrating from where you sit, try sitting in my seat," Wade quipped.

Robert McDavid spoke of “the power of the gavel” to keep meetings moving. Sean O’Day said a future stipend might allow council members to invest time in pre-meeting research that would lead to quicker decisions. Sid Sullivan said he wants more council control of the agenda. Sal Nuccio didn't attend the forum.

Candidates for each seat asked how they would attract business to Columbia and what could be done to help businesses already here.

Attendee Larry Grossman has been a chamber member for roughly 40 years. The council, he thinks, is often at odds with the business community. He suggested incentives as one way to entice new businesses.

"We can't be known as the people who always say 'no,'" Grossman said.

Realtor Betty Tice expressed similar thoughts. "I'm looking for someone who is fair and interested in Columbia growing. Pro-business,” she said.

Mike Vangel owns an advertising and marketing firm that bears his name. He’s also working with Keep Columbia Safe, the group that petitioned to put a measure authorizing security cameras downtown on the April ballot. He asked the candidates how they would vote on downtown cameras if voters approve the initiative.

All the candidates said they would fund the cameras and see that they’re in place if voters favor the ballot issue. Third Ward candidate Gary Kespohl is a solid proponent. Incumbent Karl Skala, though, doesn’t think they’ll prevent crime.

Retired bank executive Bob Roper told the Fourth Ward candidates — Tracy Greever-Rice, Sarah Read, Rick Buford and Daryl Dudley — that the chamber is frustrated by lack of representation on the myriad boards and commissions that inform city staff and City Council. He asked for their ideas about appointing those positions.

Buford thinks there are too many advisory groups.

"I strongly believe that 47 of them is excessive," he said. "I think we've gotten to the point where it is entirely too easy for council members to say, ‘Well, that's how I'm going to vote because that's what the commission said."

Greever-Rice disagreed. "I think 47 boards and commissions is a good thing. I think we should be proud of our community's commitment to local governance."

Dudley agreed the boards need more balance; Read said they need to be more productive.

Larry Moore, part-owner of Con-Agg of Missouri and former chamber chairman, liked what he heard from the candidates.

"I was encouraged," he said. "A lot of stuff is going on right now. In the past, attracting businesses to Columbia hasn't been a priority, and it should be."

Missourian reporters Anne Christnovich and Kathleen Pointer contributed to this article.

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John Schultz February 12, 2010 | 12:54 a.m.

So every single candidate at the forum - Third Ward, Fourth Ward, and mayor - are all in favor of spending taxpayer money on cameras to "protect downtown" instead of having the private businesses pay for them? Color me unimpressed if the facts are as reported in the story.

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro February 12, 2010 | 2:15 a.m.

I wonder how a vote of the populace would go if the proposed initiative read, "Do you want your tax money to pay for surveillance cameras to monitor activity in "The District" as opposed to security cameras being installed at the expense of the property owners?" and more then just the "GetAbout ad firm followers" came out to vote.

("Greever-Rice..."I think 47 boards and commissions is a good thing. I think we should be proud of our community's commitment to local governance.")
I agree.
I even believe that if the boards and commissions encouraged more participation from non-members to attend and be heard at these meetings, the chairs of these boards and commissions would have a better handle on the voice and will of the people. If there was an aggressive outreach campaign to those who are concerned about issues to participate in these boards and commissions as participatory visitors, wouldn't that reduce the number of "off the street" comments which occur during council meetings? I would also think that the council would have more credibility to the council if it were known that a significant number of non-member citizens were being included in their position statement to the council.
More attendance by visiting participants at committees, boards and commissions would also provide an orientation for potential future members.

(Report Comment)
Teresa Walker February 12, 2010 | 7:50 a.m.

From Karl Skala's campaign literature and previous comments, I believe his stand on cameras downtown is that he favors them in parking garages only. I am downtown a lot and agree with that position. I know there have been incidents of violent crime, but I don't believe the District is dangerous. When I hear Robert McDavid and other people talking about what a crime-ridden place downtown Columbia is, it makes me wonder how much time they actually spend there. Listening today to some of the candidates go on and on about crime, it occurred to me that they are purposely trying to win by appealing to people's sense of fear. Please, stop. Downtown cameras are a waste of tax dollars in hard economic times.

(Report Comment)
Rick Buford February 12, 2010 | 9:01 a.m.

No, I'm not in favor of putting the cameras downtown. A point that I made at the council meeting previously and reiterated yesterday. However, if the public overwhelmingly supports the cameras, then I view part of my job as a potential council person to put aside my personal views and adhere to the public's will.

Personally, I still believe that those dollars would be much better spent on additional officers and equipment that could then be used outside the downtown area, where 85% of our crime occurs.

(Report Comment)
Paul Love February 12, 2010 | 10:52 a.m.

I think I can safely claim Columbia's title for most aware of the potential abuse of government power and suppression of personal liberty. Having asked as far as the US Supreme Court, two simple questions, are the accused entitled to a trial and are the oaths of government officials binding believe me I know the potential for abuse. I'm pretty clear that I don't like the idea of the cameras and the studies presented show they aren't nearly as effective as people believe. When asked at the City council meeting the chief seemed to prefer officers over cameras.

I'll even go one step farther than Rick. If the public approves the cameras and if Chief Burton knowing that budgets are limited believes they are the best use of the money and requests it in his budget then I will not vote against the whole city budget to stop it.

The council does not set the budget as a line items, that is the budget provided to them by the city manager. The city manager and staff presents a budget to the council, there is a bit of back and forth to make sure the budget complies with the intent of the council and the council is given a small amount of money held in the budget for discretionary spending.

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro February 15, 2010 | 2:06 p.m.

I liked Sid Sullivan’s approach to expand on Columbia’s ability to be viewed as a service town for seniors in that support jobs, health industry careers, retail jobs, maintenance work, etc will follow the seniors who view Columbia as a desirable place to relocate to.

I would much rather have a “retired” senior come to Columbia, and purchase the house up for sale next to me, than see it become a rental property. Seniors also make great volunteers. (Several are running for mayor.)

While national competition for bigger industry/factory type “shovel ready” sites is fierce, the years of building parks, hospitals, senior centers, the Missouri theatre and other “old people friendly” venues makes Columbia a prime place to market and attract the sunset set.

At the same time. Paul Love acknowledged that IT businesses would provide opportunities for small computer-oriented entrepreneurs to set up shop and allow some of the College Grads to stay and find work in a town which currently has little to offer our college graduates. Perhaps more students opting for health related degrees would also help those who want to stay after graduation and raise a family in town. (Not to belittle those who think work cleaning toilets at KFC is a great aspiration.)

An alternative tone to set is to begin marketing our town to Senior Citizens who don’t want the heat of Phoenix or Miami. Seniors don't commit the crimes we're all concerned about and will bring modest funds into our town.

It's also been discussed at forums that purchases over the Internet and the uber-presence of Fed-Ex trucks is an indication of lost retail sales tax. Considering that for many seniors, it is the actual trip to the mall, grocer or retailer downtown which becomes the adventurous outing, less Internet purchasing from an influx of these new neighbors might just be what this town needs.

(Report Comment)

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