Mayor Darwin Hindman’s proposed idea of a 311 response system that would deal with hazardous street crossings, blocked driveways or other issues received strong support from his challenger and other City Council candidates at a disabilities public forum Wednesday. The response system would log and track citizen concerns and questions and help provide proper solutions.
The forum, held at Columbia Public Library, was intended to give candidates the chance to speak out about community disability issues. The event was sponsored by the Columbia Disability Issues Coalition, Boone County Family Resources, Services for Independent Living and several other community groups.
Hindman noted that he has brought the idea of a 311 system in front of the City Council before, but has never received full support because of the hefty expense.
“I have pushed for this in the past, and I will continue to push for it,” Hindman said.
The need for such a system became especially evident when disabled members of the community voiced concerns after this winter’s snow storms, which left several of them stranded for days.
Mayoral candidate John Clark, Third Ward candidates Karl Skala and Gary Kespohl, and Fourth Ward candidates Jerry Wade and Mike Holden all said they agreed that a 311 system should be put in place.
“Hopefully a well-done 311 system would have the proper training and ability to provide solutions to citizen concerns,” Clark said.
Skala said he also supports the 311 system, but noted that special attention needs to be focused on helping residents who cannot shovel or clear their sidewalks.
“We need an emergency number residents can call to get help clearing their sidewalks and driveways,” Skala said.
Holden went further into the issue of disaster preparedness by noting that measures need to be taken to better educate the community about Columbia’s current disaster plans and services.
“Awareness of these services and information needs to be brought to the community at large so residents can get the help they need,” Holden said.
Hindman said there is a list of people who are willing to provide disaster services to disabled persons, but people may just not know about it.
In regards to transportation services, candidates talked about expanding the ParaTransit system’s hours and the area it covers. Holden suggested that a grid system be developed so that people who use the system can cross bus lines. Currently, those who use ParaTransit are either picked up via door-to-door service or have to meet the bus at Wabash station.
Kespohl asked that the city’s disability commission bring forth information on the needs and desires disabled members of the community have toward ParaTransit.
“Once we have that data, we could go forth with the proper improvements,” Kespohl said.
Questions regarding protocol, disaster preparedness and ParaTransit were just three of ten issues raised. Candidates also fielded questions regarding housing, accessibility and employment initiatives and other issues.
All candidates noted that they had a hard time coming up with solutions to the problems because they personally have not experienced the challenges that a disabled person has to face. They asked that disability services in the community offer their own input through proposals or by coming in front of the council.
Wade continually said that the most effective change is created when it starts from the grassroots up.
“Perhaps this forum is backwards,” Wade said. “Perhaps we should be listening to what you (the audience) say.”
Skala suggested that the candidates and council members should spend a day in a wheelchair to experience the challenges and day-to-day life of a wheelchair-user in the community.
“We should experience how residents deal with transportation, how they get to work and how they get around home,” Skala said.
Aimee Wehmeier, executive director of Services for Independent Living, ended the forum by urging residents to take the information given and vote on April 3.