City Council candidates answer questions on development, marijuana, downtown cameras

Tuesday, March 25, 2014 | 10:24 p.m. CDT; updated 11:50 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, March 25, 2014
John Clark, a write-in candidate for the First Ward council seat, speaks at the NAACP Candidate Forum at Second Baptist Church on Tuesday. Bill Easley, left, and Ginny Chadwick, right, are also running for the open seat.

COLUMBIA – Candidates for the First Ward seat on the Columbia City Council answered questions Tuesday night at the Columbia NAACP Candidates Forum.

Ginny Chadwick, Bill Easley and write-in candidate John Clark attended. Tyree Byndom did not.

The election is April 8.

The following are the paraphrased questions and the candidates' answers:

How would you vote on the proposition to decriminalize growing up to six marijuana plants for medical purposes supported by Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe?

Chadwick said she supported the proposition.

"As a city, we are an innovator and an initiator," she said. Columbia's approval of this proposition could lead the way for similar, statewide legislation.

Clark said he would support the proposal because drug laws are "draconian" and that by legalizing marijuana, more crime could be prevented. He said such strict drug controls are expensive for the community.

Easley said he would support the proposition, though he would like to study it more.

African-Americans are under-represented in the business community of Columbia. What would your strategy be to get more minorities in business?

Chadwick said she would like to study how many minorities are employed in city government.

"The city should be the golden standard for showing that we are diverse," she said.

Clark said he did not have a specific plan to get minorities into the work force, but he agreed with Chadwick's idea to review the city's minority employment. He said he believes the city's approach to economic development needs to change to improve equality and attract businesses that share those values.

Factory jobs are Easley's solution. He said these jobs could help boost employment and they pay well. Easley said Columbia needs jobs for a range of people, from college students to older residents.

Former Mayor Darwin Hindman had a goal of establishing more parks and green space. Mayor Bob McDavid appears to be focused on more development, such as student housing. What would your focus be?

Chadwick said the city needs to assess current and future development plans to make sure the city is not over-building or pushing out locally owned, "mom-and-pop" rental companies. Chadwick said financing downtown infrastructure would be her focus.

Clark said the city has put an excessive emphasis on population growth. He wants a "realistic, robust" assessment of the city's needs — especially downtown's infrastructure — and then a good plan to finance those needs. Clark also said the city subsidizes new development too much and needs to cut back.

Easley said he thinks downtown development should slow down.

In general, do you support the promotion of civil liberties? And how do you feel about policies that restrict liberties, such as the downtown cameras?

Chadwick said she was not able to fully answer the question. Personally, she would have voted against installing the cameras, she said, but in the future, her vote would depend on the wishes of her constituents.

Clark said he did not think the cameras have been useful and that the money could have been used elsewhere. He would rather see funding directed toward the Columbia Police Department to hire more community police. However, he said he "wouldn't vote tomorrow" to remove the cameras downtown.

Easley said he does not support the use of cameras downtown, and he feels safe walking downtown at night. He thinks the police department should train the officers how to act more friendly to people.

Mary Ratliff, president of the Columbia NAACP, said that the candidates were good in some areas but lacked in their explanation of certain issues, such as the underemployment of African-Americans in the work force.

Ratliff said the candidates' answers were enough to show what they were interested in doing if elected.

Supervising editor is Adam Aton.

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