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.