COLUMBIA — About 40 members of the Boone County Muleskinners filled the dining room at Columbia Country Club to toss questions to City Council candidates at a forum hosted by the Democratic group on Friday afternoon.
Mike Atkinson, Michael Trapp and Bill Pauls attended the forum from the Second Ward. Bill Tillotson and incumbent Barbara Hoppe were both on hand from the Sixth Ward.
"Muleskinner" is a name traditionally given to the driver of a pack of mules. Boone County Muleskinners President Ken Jacob, who helped found the organization, said the name was borrowed from a previous iteration of the club suggested by friend Hazel Wilson. Jacob said he had the idea for the group after attending a non-partisan meeting of the Pachyderm Club, a similar civic organization for Republicans. The first meeting of this iteration of the Boone County Muleskinners was in 1982 at Boone Tavern. The location allowed local elected officials to meet with club members conveniently, Jacob said.
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Candidates also discussed health care policy, reproductive rights, job creation and city spending at the Muleskinners forum Friday. To read more about their thoughts on these issues, visit The Watchword, a Missourian blog about Columbia and Boone County government.
The issues that received the most attention from candidates and attendees were:
Improvements needed in the Second and Sixth wards
Steve Skolnick, who has lived in the Second Ward for more than 25 years, said many ongoing issues in that ward have been ignored. He cited the condition of Business Loop 70 and blasts and dust from Boone Quarries on Creasy Springs Road as examples and asked the candidates to name what they believe are the most pressing issues. Moderator Mahree Skala asked the candidates to address issues in their respective wards.
Trapp said the most urgent needs in the Second Ward are road improvements and sidewalk construction.
"The city only funds street repairs to repave the streets every 55 years, which is ludicrous," Trapp said. "It's massively underfunded."
Pauls said he had spent much of his campaign listening to potential constituents, and he cited input from Second Ward Councilman Chris Janku as particularly helpful. He acknowledged the issues that Skolnick raised but cited no specific matters of his own.
"Chris and I have been talking about all these issues for the last 18 years," Pauls said.
Tillotson said he, too, has been listening to residents of his ward. He said it is incumbent on constituents to engage their representatives on issues important to them.
"Your job is to come up to your councilperson and bring attention to those issues," Tillotson said, adding that he also is concerned about Business Loop 70.
Hoppe said the council is investigating the possibility of establishing a tax increment financing district on the loop to encourage re-development of the area.
Atkinson said he would prefer recruiting more high-traffic businesses to the Second Ward, rather than using tax-abatement programs.
"I think recruiting people, and getting them to be in a certain area because they want to be there, is important," Atkinson said.
In the Sixth Ward, Hoppe said transit remains a major issue.
"It's been a great success," Hoppe said of her efforts to encourage more busing options for students in the ward. "We have 700,000 students using it, but it's not funded."
Ensuring implementation of the Comprehensive Task Force plan
The candidates agreed the city should follow through on the suggestions of the task force and encouraged participation in the plan's third phase.
Tillotson, a member of the Planning and Zoning Commission, said he was involved in the task force project and that he found value in past planning agreements, which didn't take off with the city.
"The Metro 2020 plan — I think we used that to make paper airplanes out of or something like that," Tillotson said. He encouraged public involvement in the plan to keep this from happening.
Trapp agreed with Tillotson, saying he attended the task force meeting in the Second Ward and provided input.
"It was a great opportunity to share thoughts of what we liked about Columbia, and I would encourage people to be involved in that process," Trapp said.
Pauls said public involvement had been harmed by a lack of commitment by the city to previous plans.
"We need to do what we say we're going to do," Pauls said. "We need to follow through."
Hoppe said she was "instrumental in pushing forward the comprehensive plan" and that "the intention is to have teeth in it."
Atkinson said he would support a "significant amount of enforcement" for the task force plan. He said he would encourage tightening the budget to free up money for suggested programs.
Hoppe said crime prevention and public safety requires many considerations, including community planning and fostering trust between the Police Department and the public.
"We need to have the confidence and respect of the entire community to law enforcement," Hoppe said. She added that she supported the creation of the Citizen's Police Review Board to achieve that goal.
Tillotson said strong leadership is instrumental in law enforcement.
"When you have a problem like we're having in our Police Department today, it starts at the top," Tillotson said. He added that the current leadership "needs to be redirected some."
Atkinson said the city should look at the root causes of crime and where it's occurring to determine the best course of action.
"There's data available, and we can use that data to backtrack those areas and monitor them," Atkinson said. He said such monitoring would not be necessary for most residents, and it should only be focused on high-crime areas.
Trapp said crime has remained stable over the past 10 years. He said the city should focus its efforts on creating quality neighborhoods.
"I believe that if we improve neighborhood infrastructure, then that will create more opportunities for people to be outside," Trapp said. "It will create more of what I call eyes on the street."
Pauls agreed that emphasis should be placed on neighborhood efforts to reduce crime.
"There's important things that we can do that don't have anything to do with the police," Pauls said. "The police will be there in minutes when seconds count."
The Boone County League of Women Voters will host a forum for City Council and school board candidates at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Daniel Boone Regional Library, 100 W. Broadway. Columbia Public Schools Superintendent Chris Belcher will also speak about the tax levy increase on the ballot.