I am a resident of the First Ward, specifically the North Central neighborhood, and I’m supporting Helen Anthony for the Fifth Ward City Council seat. It’s clear to me that if I care about my neighborhood, I need to work to elect council members who believe in the same neighborhood values I do. My council member is one of seven votes on the council; each of those seven is as important as the others when the matter on the agenda affects the quality of my life and my neighbors’ lives.
For those of us who regularly attend the council meetings, we recognize the ballet of interests that dance in front of us during council presentations. I’m in awe even when I realize that behind the scenes negotiations have just submarined a project, a program or an idea I have advocated. A well-organized effort to pass an ordinance or approve a development always has the potential to educate me on how to be a more effective citizen next time.
Understanding that dance is also crucial for a council member to be effective on behalf of his or her ward and the best interests of all our citizens. Let me explain.
Helen Anthony, as a member of the Planning and Zoning Commission, cast two votes that have become the subject of discussion during this campaign. The first was against the Landmark Hospital project on Old 63 and adjacent to Country Club Estates. The second vote was against the apartment complex at the corner of Walnut Street and College Avenue.
Helen understands as well as, if not better than, her fellow commissioners that the Planning and Zoning Commission is designed to be a citizen sounding board for development projects not permitted by the class of zoning currently attached to the land. Applicants line up regularly to gain new zoning classifications, seek variances or pursue conditional use permits. As a citizen commissioner, she is charged with listening to neighborhood concerns and incorporating those concerns into her vote. Sometimes a "no" vote means that all parts of the development are not in the best interests of the citizens. More often, a "no" vote is a method for improving a development that has not met enough of the neighborhood concerns.
Planning and Zoning Commission members see themselves as representing the citizens. City Council members and elected county commissioners often see themselves as representing the development applicant. Citizen members of boards and commissions wield one power, the ability to improve a project through amendment before the vote, or by voting "no" as a way to push the developer toward meaningful changes before the development application lands on the City Council agenda.
Candidates for elected office need to have a working knowledge of how that dance plays out. Preparing for that dance includes having read the area plan report prior to the hearing, listening to citizens present the pros and the cons, and being willing to question, nudge and otherwise advocate the changes in the project. If those changes are not forthcoming, then Helen’s job as the citizen’s representative is to vote "no." This is why and how projects tend to pick up new or redesigned features between a "no" vote at Planning and Zoning meetings and the successful subsequent vote before City Council.
Helen understands how this process works and excels at bringing citizens together to provide their input. For this and many reasons, Helen is the best choice for the Fifth Ward and for the citizens of the First, Second, Third, Fourth and Sixth wards.
Please turn out to vote on April 5. Election days represent the one day and time when we are all equal. And, if you live in the Fifth Ward, vote for Helen.
Pat Fowler lives in Columbia's First Ward.