COLUMBIA — Candidates for the City Council and mayoral races debated youth issues Monday evening at a forum jointly hosted by the Youth Empowerment Zone and the Columbia Community Non-Violence Initiative.
Around 40 attendees crowded into the lime-colored pews at St. Luke United Methodist Church to hear the candidates address how they would lower unemployment, reduce youth violence and enhance youth development.
Mayor Bob McDavid and challenger Sid Sullivan; Third Ward Councilman Gary Kespohl and challenger Karl Skala; and Fourth Ward Councilman Daryl Dudley and challengers Ian Thomas and Bill Weitkemper were present. Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe and First Ward Councilman Fred Trapp joined the discussion.
Here is a summary of the key issues the candidates addressed:
Solutions for youth violence
McDavid: Three factors influence the youth violence rate — education, role-modeling and economic opportunity. He recommended reaching out to members of the minority community to empower them and said a lack of institutional respect for schools, religious organizations and parents was a significant part of the problem.
Sullivan: Youth are angry but don't manage their anger properly. He said the city should find ways to develop meaningful youth jobs that could raise self-esteem and keep young people out of trouble.
Kespohl: Education is important as a preventative measure against crime. He cited his collaborative project with Linn State Technical College and the Columbia Career Center as an ideal way to educate youth and get them off the streets.
Skala: The issue of youth violence fits well with the public safety component of his campaign, he said. Instead of encouraging the "us-versus-them" mentality many youth have about community policing, he said residents should urge young people to be out and about in an involved way.
Dudley: Primary factors contributing to the youth violence rate are the lack of activities to keep young people occupied and a culture that no longer values involvement with children.
"Curtailing youth violence has to start at a young age," he said.
Weitkemper: Response to youth violence has come primarily in the form of "get-tough measures," such as increased law enforcement and penalties for convicted youth. He suggested a better way to prevent youth violence would be to develop programs that provide youth with assistance and guidance to make good decisions.
Thomas: Many challenges facing modern youth are institutional problems such as racism and poverty. Empowering neighborhoods in underserved areas is essential to promote justice and improve equity.
"It's a communitywide tragedy when our youth are engaging in destructive behaviors," he said.
Jobs and opportunities for youth
McDavid: One of the mayor's duties is to sit on the REDI board and help encourage businesses to move to Columbia and create jobs for residents. While it is important to emphasize education, he said technical skills shouldn't be overlooked, as many jobs require skilled use of machinery. He said he would continue to recruit jobs to Columbia if re-elected.
Sullivan: Many people are having trouble finding jobs despite job training programs. He said he wants to explore working with more minority-owned and women-owned businesses.
Kespohl: There is a need for mentoring and education to put youth on the right track to success. He also suggested that there are ways to "trim down" the city budget to allocate more funding to youth programs.
Skala: Technical and vocational education are important to help youth acquire the skills necessary to obtain jobs and bring them into a "productive workforce."
Dudley: Opportunities could come from outside. For example, residents could pay local youth to shovel snow during the winter. He also mentioned that the community often focuses on sports and similar recreational activities, rather than on programs involving the creative arts.
"We do tend to forget more girly things," he said.
Weitkemper: The city could create job opportunities by establishing a neighborhood improvement program. He said the program could consist of small work crews staffed by part-time employees and supervised by full-time city employees. He also noted that the $893,556 the city allocated to social services funding was split among 40 programs, leaving each program with a rough average of $22,000.
Thomas: Many entry-level jobs are becoming automated or being shipped overseas. He said he would support the creation of a job training clearinghouse staffed by the city at minimal cost, which he said would have a tremendous payoff within the community.