COLUMBIA — Candidates for the First Ward Columbia City Council seat presented their views on public health, safety and downtown development at the Neighborhood Candidate Forum at the J.W. "Blind" Boone Community Center on Saturday.
The forum was the last opportunity for Ginny Chadwick, Bill Easley, and write-in candidate John Clark to appear together to address issues on voters' minds before the April election. The fourth candidate, Tyree Byndom, did not participate in the forum because he said his Baha'i faith does not allow for campaigning.
Here's how Chadwick, Clark and Easley responded:
Chadwick said she wants neighborhood associations to have a more prominent voice in city government because it helps to develop a sense of community. Chadwick would also like to see more effort placed on helping teenagers stay in school to reduce crime, she said.
Clark said he would like to see Columbia Police Department officers treat everyone in the community with more respect. He is supportive of the Mayor's Task Force on Community Violence. Clark said he hopes the task force will also help youth "grow up better" and address problems at a younger age.
Easley said parents have to take more responsibility for their children because "safety starts in the home." Neighbors can help with public safety, Easley said, and he suggested older neighbors can help monitor students as they walk to and from school to make sure they are safe.
Chadwick said the city considered using TIF in "a big way" and that people in the community were staunchly opposed to this approach. TIF was never intended to and should not be used as a tool to finance infrastructure updating, she said.
Clark said the process and proposals for TIF was "offensively inadequate" and a "perfect example" of how not to do big public planning. He said he is actively opposed to TIF. When a member of the audience asked Clark about his opinion on the proliferation of downtown student housing, Clark said the city should not use incentives to build student housing.
Easley said TIF needed to be studied more and that the city shouldn't raise taxes too much to pay for the infrastructure financing. Easley also said the city gave the Tiger Hotel too big of a tax break.
Chadwick said that, as a graduate student who studies public health and journalism, she was very supportive of promoting sustainable and healthy lifestyles. She wants her two daughters to grow up in a healthy community. Chadwick wants find out how to change behaviors in the community to promote healthier lifestyles.
Clark said, if elected, his goal would be to leave behind a group of individuals and neighborhood associations in the First Ward who were "sufficiently knowledgeable and prepared" to be an active part of public decision processes.
Easley said health was important and that people need to watch what they eat. It doesn't matter if someone is older or younger, he said, they need to watch what they eat and get out and exercise. He suggested people could park their car farther away and parents could play with their children more.
An audience member asked about the tension between the city's emphasis on healthy, safe neighborhoods and the robust growth in downtown student housing, which she said does not promote community development.
Chadwick said the city needs to follow the city-planning document, Columbia Imagined. The document plans for mixed-use development, not just student housing, downtown. She said the spirit of those plans is not being followed.
Clark also said Columbia Imagined should be followed because student housing was creating an unsafe, "homogenous" environment that was not part of the city's vision.
Easley focused his response on the services provided to low-income residents. He said the city needs to help low-income residents find housing and create better transportation options.
Saturday's forum was the last public forum for the First Ward candidates. The election will be held April 8.
Candidates for Columbia School Board and Laura Nauser, who is running unopposed for re-election for the Fifth Ward City Council position, also participated in the forum.
The forum was organized and sponsored by neighborhood associations in the First Ward, Peoples' Visioning, Downtown Resident Association, Imani Mission Center, and Central Columbia Get Out the Vote.
Ivy Boley, vice president of the West Ash Neighborhood Association, said she hopes this collaboration among the neighborhood associations for a candidate forum will become a yearly event.