Fourth Ward candidates discuss issues at community forum

Wednesday, February 20, 2013 | 10:39 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — Infrastructure, cooperation with other City Council members and airport renovations were just a few of the topics discussed Wednesday evening at a Fourth Ward candidate forum at the Daniel Boone Regional Library.

About two dozen people showed up to hear the three candidates for the Fourth Ward seat — Bill Weitkemper, Ian Thomas and incumbent Councilman Daryl Dudley — share their ideas on how to improve the city.

The forum was arranged by Catherine Doyle, chair of the Westmount Neighborhood Association. Doyle said she had invited residents from Parkhill, Historic West Broadway, Historic Old Southwest and Quarry Heights neighborhood associations to the event as an opportunity to meet the candidates competing to represent their area on the council.

It was the first time anyone from Doyle's neighborhood association had set up a candidate forum.

"I would just like people to listen to the candidates and see what their vision is," she said.

Infrastructure problems dominated the conversation of the forum.

Thomas said he is concerned that the Providence Road improvement project posed hazards for pedestrian safety and promised to support a motion to rescind the proposal if elected to the council.

"I really believe in looking at some communitywide approaches to traffic management," he said.

Weitkemper said the city's infrastructure is in very poor condition and that it was essential to take care of stormwater, sewer lines and power lines.

"It will affect the quality of public life and public health," he said.

The candidates also assured residents that each would work well with other members of the council, if elected.

Thomas cited his experience as the former director of PedNet as proof of his ability to form lasting partnerships. He said his efforts have helped enable Columbia to build its reputation as a city actively involved in ensuring its citizens' health.

Dudley said he already works with other council members by meeting with each member one-on-one and discussing matters about each ward.

Weitkemper acknowledged that cooperation is essential but said he would not be the type of council member to "sell out."

"Building a consensus is important, but it's also important to stand for your principles," he said.

The question of whether the Columbia Regional Airport was a quality investment for the city also surfaced during the forum.

Dudley said the airport increased Columbia's tax base by providing a means for outsiders to come to the city and make purchases.

"We do not have a crystal ball. We need to keep talking and keep getting guarantees," he said.

Thomas said that while he was "skeptical of financial incentives in general," an increase in air traffic could bring benefits to Columbia. However, he expressed uncertainty about spending millions of dollars on renovating the airport terminal.

"I would be wary of that kind of investment without solid data," Thomas said.

Weitkemper agreed that there was potential value in improving the terminal but suggested that much of the funding given to the facility would be better spent on improvements to city infrastructure.

"If we didn't own the airport, would we buy it?" he asked.

Supervising editor is Zach Murdock.

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