The three mayoral candidates presented their views about several disability issues in Columbia on Wednesday at one of their last forums before the election on Tuesday.
About 30 people gathered at the Activity and Recreation Center to hear what Mayor Darwin Hindman and mayoral candidates John Clark and Arch Brooks had to say.
One issue was the widening of sidewalks and the PedNet plan. Hindman and Brooks both voiced support for PedNet and the immediate implementation of the plan to widen the sidewalks to five feet to make them more wheelchair accessible.
Hindman said wider sidewalks would not only add to the accessibility for those in wheelchairs but also would serve the rest of the community by allowing people to be more social by walking in groups on the sidewalks.
“I’m pushing hard for five-foot sidewalks, and I’ve been for it since the absolute beginning,” Hindman said.
Brooks also said he has always been in support of wider sidewalks.
While Clark also said he supported the widening of sidewalks, he saw as more important certain policy changes and the PedNet plan to connect all the city’s sidewalks and trails into one system.
Another question before the candidates addressed the limited scheduling of the city’s transportation system and the candidate’s intentions regarding a schedule expansion to include more evenings and Sundays.
Brooks said he would like to get a clean and on-time transportation system with more meaningful points of service.
“Our existing transportation system doesn’t make any sense at all,” Brooks said. “It’s not functional.”
Clark said that because of mayoral duties, he would be unable to directly do something, but again he would work to change policy. He also cited the city budget as an impediment.
“As long as we look at the city budget, we’re not going to get any place,” Clark said.
Hindman said he intends to ask for a report from city staff to find out if cost and available equipment could allow for the expansion of the schedule, but he agreed with Clark that it was basically a budget issue.
“We are careful with our budget, and we have to make tough decisions,” Hindman said.
Increasing job availability for the disabled was also an issue put before the candidates.
Clark thought having external auditors would be the best way of making sure Columbia was not behind on this issue.
Arguing Affirmative Action
Hindman said he thinks the city’s current policy to promote and ensure equal opportunity for all persons is doing a fine job. The city puts job opportunities in print, electronic media and on the public government channel to make sure everyone has access to them, Hindman said.
“The city is quite active in affirmative action,” he said.
Brooks did not agree. He said he went to the human resources office and asked for the affirmative action plan but was given the policy. He said the mayor and city manager had not returned his inquiries for statistics on the plan.
“I don’t believe the affirmative action plan exists,” Brooks said.
Other issues touched upon were accessibility in parks and the availability of dentists who accept Medicaid.
Who will win?
Many in the crowd wore T-shirts supporting the re-election of Hindman, while a few sported Clark buttons.
Steve Sheltmire came to the meeting a supporter of Hindman and left that way. Sheltmire said Hindman’s nine years of experience put him above the rest.
“I think he is an outstanding ambassador for the city, and I think he has done a lot,” Sheltmire said. “The city has done very well under his watch.”
Kim Humphreys came to the meeting a supporter of Hindman but was questioning that decision by the end.
“I’m really struck by Clark’s abilities to get things worked out,” Humphreys said. “I thought before maybe he was too much of an activist, but maybe that’s not the case.”
The final mayoral candidate forum will be at 7 p.m. today in Fisher Auditorium in Gannett Hall at MU. It is being sponsored by the Missourian and KBIA/91.3 FM.