Voters across Boone County will be traveling to the polls on Tuesday to elect town board and council members, fill school board seats and decide on school bond issues.
Columbia’s City Council faces big changes this year.
With two veteran members who have 21 years’ combined experience — Bob Hutton of the Third Ward and Jim Loveless of the Fourth Ward — stepping aside, the council is certain to have two new faces, and perhaps a third. Those elected will join Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe, who is still in her first year on the council, and Fifth Ward Councilwoman Laura Nauser, who was elected to the council in 2005.
City Manager Bill Watkins said he can’t recall another time during his tenure in city government when there were so many new members. He said that although there will be some adjustments to make, he is confident the new leaders will be able to handle the job.
“I think we have six very competent, insightful and well-thought-of candidates this time,” he said. “I think that with the help of the rest of the staff, they are all capable of doing a good job.”
The council election features three two-way races. Incumbent Mayor Darwin Hindman is seeking a record fifth term but faces a second challenge from John Clark, who ran for mayor in 2004. Karl Skala and Gary Kespohl are squaring off in the Third Ward, while Jerry Wade and Mike Holden are competing in the Fourth Ward.
Watkins said the council has handled many of the most complicated issues on city government’s plate over the past few months, giving new members some time to settle into their new jobs before they face significant challenges.
Rex Campbell, who was Fourth Ward councilman for 12 years, said candidates with experience on the Planning and Zoning Commission will have gleaned some knowledge from their work on that advisory panel. Wade and Holden serve on the commission now; Skala has experience on that board and is a member of the Energy and Environment Commission.
Loveless said the new council members will inevitably face some tough work. One of the most difficult chores awaiting them is putting together the city budget for fiscal 2008. That work traditionally begins when the council takes its early-summer retreat. The city budget for fiscal 2007 is $334 million.
“I still remember my first budget cycle,” Campbell said. “And it was only $77 million then.”
The city budget for fiscal 2007 is $334 million.
As the winners of the election adjust, Watkins said it will be his responsibility to help them learn about ongoing issues. Loveless agreed, adding that it would also take some extra work from the candidates.
“It’s Bill’s responsibility to present the information,” Loveless said. “It’s the candidate’s responsibility to get up to speed on it.”
Loveless remembered that early on in his tenure, he was most impressed by how much council members knew about the variety of issues they make decisions about. Campbell said it probably takes about two years for council members to really get comfortable, and at least a year to gain the respect of their colleagues.