Mayoral candidates Darwin Hindman and John Clark disagree about whether the city ought to have more wards.
Hindman, the incumbent who is seeking a record fourth term in the April 6 election, thinks the current size of the City Council is adequate, but challenger Clark believes the city ought to study whether more wards are necessary.
Arch Brooks, another mayoral candidate, could not be reached for comment on the issue.
Clark has talked about more wards since 2001, when a committee suggested appointing a group to examine whether the city needed more wards.
Nearly 21/2 years later, Terry Smith, who was vice chairman of the Ward Reapportionment Committee, said he has no idea why the council never acted on that recommendation.
“The city has had the same number of wards for many years, but maybe doubled in population since that was set,” said Smith, who is also vice president of Columbia College. “It’s at least as good of an idea now as it was then. It would allow the council to better serve its constituents.”
In 2001, Clark proposed raising the number of council members from seven to 13 and the number of wards from six to 12. Although his current platform doesn’t suggest a certain number of wards, Clark says as mayor he would ask the council to appoint the committee Smith’s group recommended.
Clark thinks more wards would make council members more representative and responsive to constituents. “It will simply reduce the sheer number of people each council person will represent,” he said.
Adding wards would also make each ward more homogeneous, with individual needs that are more distinct and uniform, Clark said.
Hindman, who was mayor at the time of the reapportionment committee’s report, said adding more wards might be dangerous because it could reduce the influence of individual council members.
“Each ward’s councilperson will have less influence,” Hindman said.
Columbia voters in 1972 amended the city charter to create six wards, when the city had a population of about 60,000. At the time of the committee’s report in 2001, Columbia had grown to a population of nearly 85,000.
Adding more wards still isn’t a high priority for Hindman. “I think having seven — six council members and a mayor — serve on the council is a good number,” he said. “We have a council that works well. They represent wards and perform their city duties as a whole very well.”
Clark said a larger council could be more efficient. “The current council structure makes for a huge workload,” he said. “You at least have the possibility to divide work around with a larger council.”
Smith, who said he agrees with Clark on the ward issue but supports Hindman’s re-election bid, is confident the council will act in coming years. “It just might not have been a high priority when it was presented,” Smith said. “Their idea may be ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ They had more important things to do, and I understand that.”
Clark, however, said the failure of the council to even debate the recommendation sends a negative message. He said he would show great interest in such opinions if he’s elected.
“Not acting on it sends a message of disrespect,” Clark said. “I don’t think that’s the intent of the council, but it still sends that message. I’m very interested in what boards and commissions have to say, and if such a body wrote an opinion, I would ask the council to at least put a report about it on their work session agenda.”
Hindman said he has discussed the issue with peers at mayoral conferences. His main concern with adding more wards is having a council too large to effectively govern the city. He said competition might grow between wards for city services.
“I was advised to be very careful when thinking about adding members to the council,” Hindman said. “As the city grows, if you increase the number of wards and councilpeople, you have to watch out because you might end up with way too large of a council.”
The geographical expansion of Columbia into areas such as Thornbrook might eventually persuade Hindman to support more wards, depending on how quickly the areas become populated.
“The city’s boundaries are getting much larger,” Hindman said. “If those areas get populated, we’ll see.”
Hindman said the best time to consider the idea might be when the next census is done in 2010.
“At some point we’ll have to look at it, but I didn’t think that was the time, and I still don’t think it is now,” Hindman said.
Brooks’ platform doesn’t directly discuss the number of wards in the city but cites his concern about a disparity between poor and affluent wards in the city. “For too long, social services are denied in certain wards while more affluent wards are automatically taken care of,” he says on his Web site, www.brookscomputingsystems.com/mayor.