COLUMBIA— Diversity in decision-making and the city's snow removal policy were the highlights of a City Council candidate forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters on Tuesday night.
Dozens of people crowded into the Friends Room of the Columbia Public Library for the fourth public candidate forum before the April 5 municipal election.
Audience members and moderator Rachel Brekhus posed questions to the candidates regarding diversity on the council and the need to readdress the city’s snow removal policy.
Fifth Ward candidate Glen Ehrhardt said unique experiences in life enable everyone to bring different things to the table. He said his experiences as an attorney will affect what he would bring to the council.
“I view myself as a good listener,” Ehrhardt said. “My law practice and life has been listening. I will hear concerns of the public. I view myself as a consensus builder.”
Fifth Ward candidate Helen Anthony said she did not believe there was a diverse group of perspectives represented on the council.
“I am a big believer in diversity and bringing together different perspectives," Anthony said. "It is my concern that with the Chamber of Commerce endorsing candidates, that the candidates who have been endorsed are answering to a single group of people.”
Anthony said adding to the diversity of the council was one of the reasons she was running.
First Ward candidate Mitch Richards said an effective elected official has to work with people through conspicuous disagreements.
“You have to reach out to everybody, you have to address everybody,” he said. “Especially if you’re on the council, you’re a part of the community, not part of a faction or party.”
Fellow First Ward candidate Pam Forbes said her opinion would represent those of her constituents.
“I’m not afraid to be a dissenting voice if that is the voice that I’m hearing from the ward,” she said.
First Ward candidate Darrell Foster also previewed his decision-making policies.
“You let some decision making percolate up and other decision making be pushed down,” he said. Eventually those two processes would be sworn together, meet in the middle and compromise, he said.
All council candidates agreed the city’s snow removal policy was insufficient following “Snowmageddon.”
“In terms of the snow, 20 years ago we had eight miles of road per public works worker, now we have 14 (miles per worker),” First Ward candidate Fred Schmidt said.
Anthony agreed, saying the city needs to address its number of plows. Columbia has fewer plows than Jefferson City and twice as much area to cover, she said.
Ehrhardt said the city needs to have a contingency plan for storms such as this year's near-blizzard. He said the city needs to be creative and should look into equipping other city vehicles with snow plows when necessary.
Foster said the February's near-blizzard gave citizens a rare opportunity.
“Once you get a shellacking, when life deals you a lemon, you get some sugar and you make some lemonade,” he said. “You have to come up with an alternative plan for dealing with it, because there is no place to put the snow. We were patient. We prayed, and we made lemonade.”