COLUMBIA — First and Fifth Ward candidates for Columbia City Council were asked about several issues at a candidate forum sponsored by the NAACP on Tuesday night.
Virginia Law, the group's co-chairwoman for political action, moderated the forum, filtering questions submitted by an audience of about 50 people and incorporating questions on issues of concern to the NAACP.
Affirmative action, minority contracts and payday loans were focal points of the questions directed at First Ward candidates.
Darrell Foster emphasized the drastic rate of unemployment in the First Ward among the African-American community, saying the number of unemployed is higher than the city claims.
“We’re running at about 40 to 50 percent unemployment among the African-American community in the First Ward,” Foster said. “I accuse small businesses of being enablers of the polarization and racism in this community by not hiring young black males and females.”
Fred Schmidt said affirmative action is important, but he said he does not know if it’s appropriate everywhere in the community.
Mitch Richards said individuals should be judged on their merits, and if that isn't the case, the city should get involved.
“Affirmative action is a difficult issue because in the ward we have African-Americans, Latinos, Asian-Americans, whites,” he said.
Pam Forbes said the city needs to enforce rules for minority contracts.
“I think we need to hold the city to its mandates and its own rules,” she said. “There are rules connected to the contracts (minorities) get, and I’ve been told they just kind of let it go.”
The candidates differed in their stances on payday loans in the First Ward.
Foster said he understands some people are in need of quick loans, but he is upset with the "injustice" of the process and the high interest rates.
“Big businesses own and operate those places to continue keeping you on your knees,” he said. “We have the capacity, the ability, the courage to stop this buffoonery that’s taking place.”
Forbes agreed, saying anything the city can do to regulate loan businesses would be favorable.
Schmidt said the numbers indicate minorities are turned down for loans more than whites, but is unsure of what exactly the city can do about it.
He proposed a “one-stop shop” where people can go to receive counseling and advice on what to do about their personal financial situations.
Richards took a different stance than the other candidates.
“In government, when we discuss and consider initiatives, we need to consider actual outcomes — not desired ones,” he said.
Eliminating payday loans would lead to an outcome that history indicates is much worse, he said.
“What’s going to happen when people need money is promote criminal activity,” Richards said. “It’s going to expose (people) to violence; they’re going to face far worse interest rates.”
Because of the number of audience-submitted questions for the First Ward, questions directed at the Fifth Ward candidates were cut short.
Fifth Ward candidates Glen Ehrhardt and Helen Anthony answered two questions regarding erosion, energy-efficient homes and the Office of Neighborhood Services.
Both Ehrhardt and Anthony said the city has enacted some effective stormwater ordinances in the last few years and it is important that those ordinances are complied with.
“We have come a long way in addressing erosion issues as a city,” Anthony said.
In order for these ordinances to be effective it is important for citizens to contact the city or the property owner when a site is not in compliance with the current ordinances, Ehrhardt said.
The Fifth Ward candidates also agreed the Office of Neighborhood Services is a valuable resource to renters and rental-property owners in Columbia.
Ehrhardt said he would encourage upgrading older rental properties to become more energy-efficient to put money back into the pockets of renters.
Anthony said she would support incentives to improve the quality of rental properties throughout the city.