COLUMBIA — Candidates for Boone County Northern District commissioner discussed their takes on home rule and prioritizing the repairs of roads at a forum Tuesday evening hosted by the Columbia chapter of the NAACP.
Virginia Law, co-chair of the NAACP's political action committee, facilitated the conversation.
Republican candidate Don Bormann spoke alongside three Democrats — O.J. Stone, Janet Thompson and Darin Fugit — running for their party's nomination for Boone County Northern District commissioner in the upcoming primary election.
The complications of home rule
- Stone said he had issues with home rule and pointed out that voters have rejected proposed charters on two occasions. He said this was because Boone County residents are nervous about changing the government "too much, too soon." Stone said he would not address this issue if elected unless voters bring it to his attention.
- On whether the current government should be changed, Thompson said, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." She said that when people think of home rule, they think of either Jackson County or Ed Robb's proposed initiative. Thompson said the type of home rule in Jackson County would not work in Boone County. "For us, we like to have accountability of officials," she said. Thompson did agree with some of former Presiding Commissioner Ed Robb's initiative to place home rule on the ballot again in April. She sees positives in expanding the number of commissioners.
- Bormann said the current government is on "terrible terms," and he thinks home rule is generally a good idea because it "brings the government to the people." He especially likes that home rule would eliminate the need for the county to go to the state legislature for approval to pass ordinances. Bormann said that, like the majority of Boone County voters, he did not support the last two proposed charters. He said that he would not vote for a charter that includes eliminating elected offices but would consider a charter, depending on specifics.
- Fugit said that Boone County is entitled to run its own government and that the current form of government should be put under charter. Like the other candidates, he noted that voters have approved previous initiatives to draft a charter but rejected resulting proposals because they called for extensive changes in the county government's structure.
Reconstruction of New Haven Road
- Bormann said the issue is twofold: New Haven Road faces both engineering problems and funding problems. He said other roads near Battle High School also need fixing. He was unsure where the city stands on fixing which roads first, but he said New Haven Road needs to be widened.
- Stone agreed that New Haven Road needs work. He's unsure where the New Haven Road falls in the city's system of fixing roads because "every road has priorities." Roads are expensive, he said, but New Haven Road needs to be looked into for short-term and long-term fixes.
- Thompson recalled being involved in a rollover car accident on an unsafe road when her car was struck by another car after getting a flat tire. "We have to be concerned about safety," she said. Thompson questioned how many people are using the road and how traffic could be diverted from it. She said the county should try to find money to repair the road to make it safer but not completely rebuild it.
- Fugit said that although there are roughly 800 miles of roads in Boone County, there is a very small budget to address road conditions along them. He agreed with Thompson that the road should not be redone, but instead the county should look into traffic counts and accidents on New Haven Road.
"The big thing is making sure (the commissioners) are getting jobs that keep the African-American community in mind," said Mary Ratliff, president of the local and state chapters of the NAACP.
Three of the four candidates for Boone County public administrator — incumbent Cathy Richards (D), Connie Bell Hendren (D) and John Sullivan (R) — also attended the meeting and discussed the challenges of the office and the effects of health care reform on their clients.
The effects of health care reform on the public administrator's office
- Hendren said the reform will provide more beneficial services to clients, specifically for the vast number of mothers under the office's care.
- Sullivan said that he was "flat-footed" on the issue but that the office should always work with the tools given if those tools can benefit clients.
- Richards said she didn't know what her clients would do without the reform. She said she wanted to make sure the services fit the needs of the people she serves.
Challenges of the public administrator office
- Sullivan said funding and providing adequate housing for clients are potential difficulties. He said finding places for clients to live is important to preserving their independence, but it becomes easy to "warehouse" people into housing that is not receptive to their rehabilitation.
- Given that she has 400 client cases, Richards said she needs additional staff to effectively care for her clients. She called for fewer budget cuts so she could prevent her clients from suffering and losing their quality of life.
- Hendren said the office could theoretically add more than 100 new employees because of its case load. She said taking care of clients is always the main concern and emphasized the importance of working with all agencies who provide services to clients in light of recent budget cuts.
Boone County Presiding Commissioner Dan Atwill (D), who is unopposed in the primary and general elections, and Boone County Southern District Commissioner incumbent Karen Miller (D), who is unopposed in the primary, were also present.
Four candidates were missing from the forum:
- Lance Robbins (R) and Brian Dollar (D) for Boone County Northern District Commissioner
- James Pounds (R) for Boone County Southern District Commissioner
- Norman Lampton (R) for Boone County Public Administrator