COLUMBIA — Mitch Richards, a member of Keep Columbia Free and a frequent critic of the Columbia Police Department, intends to run for the First Ward seat on the Columbia City Council.
“I’m running for a lot of reasons,” said Richards, 28, who is circulating a nominating petition for the seat. First Ward incumbent Paul Sturtz has said he will not seek re-election.
The First and Fifth ward seats on the Columbia City Council will be up for election in April. Those interested in running first must gather signatures from at least 50 registered voters who live in the ward they want to represent. Those petitions must be submitted to city clerk for validation. The deadline for filing petitions is 5 p.m. Jan. 11.
Richards' involvement in local government affairs began during the spring campaign surrounding the question of whether to install security cameras downtown. Richards opposed the idea. Voters approved the cameras citywide, but First Ward voters rejected them.
Richards said the camera campaign prompted his interest in city government. He began attending meetings of the City Council and the Citizens Police Review Board, and he talked with people who have been raided by SWAT teams.
“It just opened my eyes,” Richards said.
Richards feels his experiences have affirmed and demonstrated the need for greater civilian oversight of the Police Department.
“In the past there have been instances where the police have not acted in accordance with the values of our community,” Richards said. “There is no reason why the police shouldn’t be held to the same scrutiny as other government agencies."
Richards also wants to ensure the review board is respected and its integrity upheld.
“It is unclear what powers they have," he said. "They are trying to find their place in Columbia life.”
Other than his focus on the Police Department, Richards said he considers himself a pro-business person. He also wants to push for government accountability and said he "sympathizes" with recent comments from Sturtz. Sturtz suggested that the council is viewed by city administrators and the mayor's office as "an impediment to a smoothly running bureaucracy." Richards said that the City Council should be central to policymaking and not an "impediment" to it.
Eapen Thampy, who is acting as Richards' interim campaign manager, said Richards would represent the First Ward well.
“The First Ward is a diverse group of citizens," Thampy said. "We just feel that Mitch can offer the people who live downtown good solid representation, such as asking for accountability from the police, being pro-business and working with developers and the city to ensure future development in the First Ward is sustainable and well directed.”
Richards will hold a fundraising event in about two weeks, possibly at The Blue Note. “It will be the official start of the campaign,” Richards said.
He also is building a website and figuring out office space.
Two other Columbia residents have announced they intend to run for the council. Fred Schmidt has submitted a petition to run for the First Ward seat, and Glen Ehrhardt has said he will run in the Fifth Ward. Fifth Ward incumbent Laura Nauser has said she will not seek a third term.