COLUMBIA — Five City Council hopefuls faced questions from the Columbia Chamber of Commerce on Thursday.
About 50 chamber members filled a conference room at the Walton Building, providing a forum for candidates in the Second and Sixth wards to make their case for election April 3. Candidates answered questions about the city's economic health from the chamber’s Government Affairs Committee and audience members.
For candidates' responses to all questions posed during the forum, visit The Watchword, a Missourian blog focusing on Columbia and Boone County government.
The race for the Second Ward City Council seat is open following Jason Thornhill’s decision not to seek re-election. Three candidates seek to replace him: Mike Atkinson, co-owner of The Candy Factory; Bill Pauls, a retired U.S. Department of Agriculture soil scientist; and Michael Trapp, a counselor with Phoenix Programs.
Can you give examples of projects that would positively impact economic development in Columbia?
Atkinson said increasing the number of flight carriers at Columbia Regional Airport should be a priority. He suggested MU should stop reimbursing employees for car trips to airports in Kansas City or St. Louis.
“That would encourage more flights out of Columbia,” Atkinson said. “That would increase the demand for another carrier.”
Pauls said the city should create an environment for job creation.
“You plant the seeds, you water the seeds and you have growth,” Pauls said. “I’m an old farm boy. I’m going to be coming to the City Council with that perspective.”
Trapp said investing in infrastructure would help the economic climate.
“We’re on pace to re-pave our streets every 57 years; streets don’t last 57 years,” Trapp said. “If you see a lot of potholes, peoples’ judgment of that community goes down.”
What is the greatest issue Columbia is facing and what would your solution be?
Pauls said safety is a top concern.
“If you’re not safe you can’t do anything else,” he said.
Trapp contested Pauls’ narrative, and said again that road maintenance is the most important issue.
“The crime rate has been flat in Columbia over the last 10 years,” Trapp said. “We as politicians don’t want to pander to fear and create a hysteria that pushes us in the wrong direction.”
Atkinson criticized government employees' records on spending.
“(Their) mindset is to spend the entire budget,” he said. “That way, next year, you can ask for more money.”
Which City Council member do you most identify with?
“I like aspects of all the council members,” Trapp said. “I’m a consensus-builder; there has been a divide in Columbia that’s unnecessary.”
Atkinson didn't say which council member he identified with and instead offered stances on issues the council has dealt with in the past.
“With the Regency trailer park, I would have voted with the land owners to rezone,” Atkinson said. “I believe in property rights."
“With the smoking ban, I don’t think the city is in the correct position to dictate to businesses how they should run.”
Pauls said he liked what Mayor Bob McDavid has done thus far.
“I would pattern myself after his lead,” Pauls said.
Incumbent Barbara Hoppe is defending her seat against Bill Tillotson, a 41-year Columbia resident and independent insurance agent.
With the budget issues facing the city, can you describe your experience in dealing with finances?
Tillotson said his focus on fiscal responsibility was shaped by owning two businesses with his wife.
“We’ve seen all sides about budgets,” Tillotson said.
He said his major concern would be to simplify the budget process and make sure all members of the community are aware of how the city is spending money.
Hoppe said she’d learned a lot about budgets from her time on the council.
“When you’re on the City Council, especially that long, you get a master’s degree in a lot of areas,” Hoppe said.
Hoppe praised the foresight of the council in setting aside reserve funds to help the city weather the current financial climate.
Do you have any suggestions for the airport?
Hoppe said her focus on the council has been to increase the size of the airport and attract more flights.
“The trend for airports has been that the smaller ones have a great risk of losing service in the future,” Hoppe said. “We don’t want to be on that smaller list.”
Hoppe said the proposed increase in the city’s lodging tax would provide funds for expansion, but that the concerns of hotel and motel owners should be considered.
Tillotson said the condition of the airport should have been addressed a decade ago. He suggested the city should collaborate with business owners and MU to solve the problem.
“To do this, we’re going to have to create unity,” Tillotson said. “We’ve got to sell the university; we’ve got to sell the citizens to use our airport.”