Candidates for Boone County Commission

Ten people are running for county commission posts in Boone County. 

The Columbia Missourian asked each of the candidates for Boone County commissioner, both for the Southern and Northern districts, to answer each of the following 10 questions in 100 words or less by July 20.

Eight of the candidates are vying for Southern District commissioner in the Aug. 2 primary — five Democrats and three Republicans. In the Northern District, incumbent Janet Thompson is running as the sole Democratic candidate , and one Republican, Brenndan Riddles, is running. Without party opposition, they are expected to face each other in the general election on Nov. 8.

Who's running 

Boone County Southern District commissioner 

Democrats

Ted Farnen is a Columbia resident and former state representative, serving in the General Assembly from 1995 to 2003. During that time he acted as chairman of the House Higher Education Committee, served on the House Budget Committee and was the majority caucus chairman during his last term. Currently, Farnen is an editor at the Missouri School Boards’ Association and a member of the city’s Parks and Recreation Commission. Farnen graduated from MU with a degree in journalism in 1987.

Trevor Fowler has served as a sheriff's deputy for the Boone County Sheriff’s Department for 21 years. He currently is the school resource officer for the Southern Boone School District in Ashland. Fowler is a graduate of MU’s Law Enforcement Training Institute. He lives in Boone County with his wife, Candy, assistant principal at Fairview Elementary School, his son and two stepdaughters. 

After graduating from the MU School of Law, Brianna Lennon has held various positions within state government. She is a former Missouri assistant attorney general and served as a member of the Consumer Protection Unit. She has also served as the deputy director of elections and was the first coordinator for the Election Integrity Unit under the Missouri Secretary of State’s office. Lennon currently lives in Boone County with her husband, Scott, and son, Ryan, born in December 2014.

Ann Peters grew up in Boone County and graduated from Stephens College in 1984. She returned to Columbia in 2005 and served on the Columbia Planning and Zoning Commission for six years. She currently works as the Wood Ridge Neighborhood Association president. Previously, Peters was a business owner after starting up The Pipette People and Instrument Repair Services. This national service agency provided technical support during calibration for biotech companies’ instruments.

Sid Sullivan is a Columbia resident and retired marketing and sales manager for Roche Diagnostics Corp. He’s previously worked as a U.S. Senate aide, court service assistant and high school teacher. In both 2010 and 2013, Sullivan made unsuccessful attempts to run for Columbia mayor. In 2006, Sullivan also ran an unsuccessful state representative campaign. He has a master’s degree from the New School for Social Research in sociology.

Republicans 

Matt Cavanaugh, a 26-year Columbia resident, originally came to Missouri to study economics and Japanese at MU. For 20 years, he split his time between Columbia and Honduras, where he renovated houses and helped develop off-grid resorts in Latin America. He returned to Columbia full-time in 2013, and has renovated at least 30 houses in the Columbia area. Cavanaugh decided to run for commissioner in January, then quit his job at Colorado-based Five Diamond Resort properties. He has an 8-year-old son. 

Fred Parry has spent 20 years as an owner and publisher of several local magazines, including Inside Columbia. He also serves as chairman of the Boone Hospital Center Board of Trustees, a board Parry has been a member of since 2003, and co-hosted KFRU's "Morning Meeting" radio program from April 2001 to October 2008. 

Jimmy Pounds has been operator of James Pounds Construction since 1996. This will be his third attempt to become a county commissioner after challenging Karen Miller for her seat in 2012 and most recently losing the presiding commissioner position to Dan Atwill in 2014. Pound announced his candidacy in February after taking issue with the Central Missouri Events Center Review Committee’s plan to fund the reopening of Boone County Fairgrounds through taxes. He and his wife, Boone County Fire Protection District Capt. Martina Pounds, have been married for almost 22 years and have two children.

Questions

1. Over the past five years Boone County tied Platte as the fastest growing county in Missouri, with estimated population growth of 7.6 percent. How would you assess county government’s performance in keeping up with the infrastructure demands that growth creates, and what would you do differently?

Farnen: Overall, Boone County has done a good job of keeping up with infrastructure demands. The next commissioner must have the ability to balance competing needs and be consistent. You can be pro-environment and pro-business at the same time. That means that any time a development is proposed, the new commissioner must weigh how traffic, the environment and utilities will be affected. However, such developments should not be over-regulated to the point where it is impossible for anything new to be built or so expensive that new housing becomes essentially unaffordable for a buyer or unprofitable for a developer.

Fowler: We have issues with our infrastructure. We need to continue to keep up with the demands of growth. The current commission is earnest and doing their best, but funding must improve for infrastructure to keep up.

Lennon: Overall, I think that our government is comprised of professional and competent elected officials who have made good decisions regarding the county’s growth. The road maintenance matrix that ensures our roads are safe and well maintained particularly impresses me. However, with our increase in population, we need to be sure that the county is creating predictable and consistent policies for long-term growth. I would like to see us develop a countywide plan to guide us for the next five to 10 years and beyond that is focused on developing necessary infrastructure and delivery of services.

Peters: Traditionally what happens is, new developments ask to be annexed into the city of Columbia to avoid having to pay for their own infrastructure cost, which the county frequently requires. When I look at the situation at Midway, the county is not keeping up with sewer demands. But the question becomes can the county afford the sewer upgrades Midway would need? But Midway certainly has the right to petition the city of Columbia for annexation and service.

Sullivan: Boone County does not build new roads. It doesn’t have the budget to do more than maintain the current 750 miles of county roads. Developments outside a corporate city limits must provide their own access to an existing county road. And large private, urban-scale developments are required to upgrade existing county roads to meet satisfactory levels of service to accommodate the additional traffic generated by them. That may explain why almost 90 percent of recent growth occurred inside Columbia and Ashland. The more serious problem for adequate roads is the placement of traffic-generating public facilities in unincorporated Boone County. Battle High School and Battle Elementary School have both generated traffic demands on county roads that await substantial city funding.

Cavanaugh: Boone County has done fairly well keeping up with growth, as it is funded by developers, not subsidized by the county. A level playing field with uniform codes for building in the county needs to be implemented for consistency and clarity.

Parry: There's always room for improvement. Most of the growth in Boone County has been within the city limits of Columbia, and the city has had to respond to the increased demand on its infrastructure. The city and the county are experiencing revenue shortfalls due to a decrease in sales tax revenue, which accounts for 71 percent of the county's general revenue. Paying for infrastructural improvements will become more and more of a challenge. At some point, our county government will have to move away from being reactive and embrace a strategy of getting ahead of growth with more comprehensive planning and communication.

Pounds: County government has not done a very good job with looking forward and taking into account the rapid growth of the community with regard to road construction. The best example I can point to is the roundabout at Route WW and Rolling Hills Road. When these roads were first connected, we could have foreseen the traffic. I wish to be more efficient and delegate resources to more pressing solutions to traffic and road construction demands.

2. What is your assessment of county government’s relationship with the city of Columbia and with the governments of other cities, towns and villages in the county?

Farnen: Relationships can always be improved between the county and its various cities, but there is already a lot of cooperation that happens every day. I was appointed as a member of the Parks and Recreation Commission by the Columbia City Council, so I already have a good working relationship with the council. I also have been endorsed by the mayor of Ashland and other current and former officials in Ashland and Hartsburg. I have experience working with people from rural and urban areas and people in both political parties, and I will continue to do so as county commissioner.

Fowler: We need more communication between the two (city and county). I have established an excellent relationship with Brian Treece, Columbia’s new mayor. He will be the first person I call if elected to meet and attempt to start off on the right foot in improving communication. I know Dan Atwill and Janet Thompson will assist, as well as working together as a team is important.

Lennon: I have met with staff in many of the departments, including public health, public works and public safety, and I know that the interest of both city and county staff is to serve the needs of the community. Relationships can always be improved and one of my goals as a new commissioner is to open channels of communication to be sure that all interested parties are brought to the table. In the Southern District, I would like to see the county work closer with communities in Ashland and Hartsburg as they manage high growth rates and infrastructure challenges.

Peters: I believe the city and county relationship is better than it has been in the past. With the new city administration there's more openness and a genuine desire to work well with the county. I became friends with Brian (Mayor Treece), as a planning commissioner on the Historical Preservation Commission. We have collaborated on a number of projects with both commissions. I believe there's a willingness to move forward for the good of the community.

With regard to relationships with other municipalities, we were working well with them. As a planning commissioner, we were encouraged to attend a number of different commission meetings. As a commissioner I was able to attend the Mid-Missouri Regional Planning Commission and found that quite educational, obtaining working knowledge of different municipalities and counties' collaboration. As a candidate for Southern District commissioner, I attended a meeting recently of MMRPC, and they continue to foster collaboration and communication to better all the municipalities and regional counties.

Sullivan: The staff of the county and city governments of Boone County work well together. Sewer districts, public safety, public works, the 911 call center and the joint Columbia/county health department all cooperate well. The maintenance of county roads and bridges providing access to rural communities is acceptable to most. But with a limited budget and aging roads and bridges, there will always be work to be done. My assessment of Boone County’s tiff over Columbia’s TIF is that it was gratuitous and never should have happened. Both Columbia’s City Council and TIF Commission had challenged the city administration's TIF before the county took legal action on a matter unrelated to the disputed TIF.

Cavanaugh: Historically, there has been a poor relationship between the city of Columbia elected officials and Boone County elected officials. We now have a new Columbia mayor and at least one new county commissioner. I believe that learning from the past, we can dedicate our efforts to a cooperative, effective relationship that will result in many benefits and synergies for our community.

Parry: Again, there's great room for improvement in this area. I believe in the importance of bringing all stakeholders to the table at one time in an effort to fully open the lines of communication. This has not been done in several years. The legal issues between the county and the city of Columbia, and between the county and the city of Hallsville, are perfect examples of how damaged relationships can cripple governance. We can do much better.

Pounds: I think the relationship between county and city employees is, for the most part, solid and has allowed them to work together when necessary. However, I believe the working relationship between City Council and city management with the county commissioner, specifically, could improve. There seems to be a lot of friction that leads to inefficiency and an inability to communicate and work together to better our community.

3. Do you believe Boone County should consider a charter form of government? Why or why not?

Farnen: Putting a “home rule” charter proposal before voters would not be a priority of mine at the beginning of my commission term. It has been rejected twice by voters, and most counties that adopt such a form of government have a larger population than Boone County. However, there could be potential benefits of the county being able to take care of some problems without going to the state legislature for approval, so if a consensus builds that such a move is needed, I would be willing to consider placing before voters a carefully written proposal that accomplishes that goal.

Fowler: Yes. I believe strongly that a charter form of government will give “city-type powers” to citizens of the county and the county commission and allow for decisions to be made that will help the county and not tie it to red tape. It will help growth.

Lennon: I think that a charter form of government could have advantages for Boone County, but it would not be a priority for me to pursue at this time. A larger and more diverse population can benefit from a charter that gives us more local control and decision-making authority; however creating a consensus for a new charter is a big challenge, and voters have rejected the past three attempts to pass one.

Peters: Not at this time. Until the county has a strategic plan in place, we should not consider a charter form of government.

Sullivan: Yes, Boone County should consider a charter form of government, but it’s a process for understanding and educating citizens on the form of government voters want. A charter government can take many different forms in the way it governs and elects its officials. It could be as simple as “home rule” without any change to elected officials or a more comprehensive change in the way we govern and deliver services. It should require an independent study of advantages and disadvantages with recommendations, public hearings and a public education before any such consideration is put before the voters. Voters are slow to accept change, as we saw with the roll cart vote in Columbia.

Cavanaugh: I am a strong proponent of home rule.

Parry: I believe that moving to a charter form of government is certainly worth another look. A lot has changed since the citizens of Boone County last reviewed the merits of this form of government. If home rule will improve accountability and efficiency in government, I would support it. I would not advocate for change just for the sake of change. Ultimately, the citizens of Boone County should determine how they want their government structured.

Pounds: I like the idea of home rule. I believe Boone County should be in charge of its government decisions. I’d like to explore what exactly this would look like in Boone County.

4. What strategies can Boone County government employ to boost economic development and create jobs?

Farnen: Helping maintain a high quality of life and cooperating with various entities such as Columbia and the other cities, local schools, the universities and colleges, local chambers of commerce and economic development groups will help make for a pro-jobs environment. People are already moving here; we just need to make sure we can accommodate that growth. We also need to support efforts like improving the airport, so people wanting to conduct business can get here easily.

Fowler: We need to get viable fairgrounds again. We need to look to the support of our developers in improved housing options in the county and end the red tape for builders, contractors, and developers in Boone County. Many developers have told me that they can’t do business with the county. I also want to support education and try to allow the county and school systems (Ashland, Columbia) to thrive in order to have more teachers and more growth for students to get an education at all levels.

Lennon: Boone County is an attractive region for many industries, particularly research and development tied to the University of Missouri. The county can help encourage state investment in programs like the MU Research Reactor, which would support entrepreneurship, job growth and education in the area. Boone County also has a great history of supporting job training and vocational skills through partners like Job Point, which is critical for our community.

Peters: Redevelop the fairgrounds into a destination location through public-private partnership. Foster tourism. Work closely with small businesses in the area, like the Stanton brothers, to develop new products through the entire life cycle of their chickens. This could be anything from local pet products to human consumption. Work to foster better farm-to-table collaboration and small businesses within the region.

Sullivan: Boone County can continue to support the Incubator to assist entrepreneurs to move from a concept to a business plan. Then it can work with other private and public financial resources to encourage the new business to remain in Boone County. The county has two financial tools to assist new businesses: chapter 100 bonds and tax increment financing. Also, the county commissioners are members of various regional boards, which influence and coordinate economic development, regional planning and incentives to retain and attract local businesses.

Cavanaugh: Politicians never create jobs; private industry does. Creating a level playing field with a low-entry barrier for new businesses is essential to attracting new investment and employers. Maintaining high-quality infrastructure with forward-thinking leadership at the city and county level will give Boone County a competitive advantage now and in the future.

Parry: We must remove the obstacles that are put in place to keep companies from investing and expanding in Boone County. If we want to attract higher-paying jobs to Boone County, we must be willing to use economic development tools that are available to us. If we want existing businesses to expand, we need to start treating them like partners rather than enemies. We have a lot of work to do in this area. It is clear that we would have lost ABC Laboratories to another community if not for the Chapter 100 bonds. We must do more of this.

Pounds: Boone County and the city of Columbia have been over-regulated and overtaxed. As a member of the Boone County Code Commission, I have worked to limit this regulation growth, specifically with building codes. We need to give more choice back to the buyers and builders and let the free market decide whether these items, unrelated to safety, will be adopted into buildings.

5. The city of Columbia has embarked on an ambitious plan to address social and economic disparities between white and minority residents. Do you believe the county should engage in a similar effort and, if so, what would that look like?

Farnen: The efforts of the city of Columbia to address social/economic disparities are noble, and if the county can assist in any way, it should. Many national factors that are out of the control of local officials affect these disparities, so the reach of county government in these areas is limited. However, making county government more inclusive has been one of the major parts of my platform, so I hope to help efforts to make county government more diverse and inclusive.

Fowler: We have to continue to figure out ways to help with economic disparities, as it affects both jobs and crime in the county. I think figuring out how to connect education support and economic challenges will begin to address this issue and help minorities and the economically disadvantaged in many ways. It will lessen crime as well. I am the only candidate that is addressing the “school-to-prison” pipeline, and the last thing we need is to send children to prison when they need rehabilitation and an honest chance at a good future.

Lennon: The disparities identified in the city’s plan are not confined to the city limits. The joint city-county health department has been working to address part of this issue through the Community Health Improvement Plan, which addresses racial disparities in achievement, earnings and health. I am encouraged by that work and would like to see the county lean into the discussion.

Peters: Yes. Increasing employment opportunities in Columbia and Boone County would help greatly. Work more closely with REDI to increase employment opportunities in Boone County. Work more closely with Columbia Public Schools to ensure children have an opportunity to succeed. The school-to-jail pipeline needs to become a thing of the past. Re-entry into the workforce needs to become more streamlined.

Sullivan: There is no question racism exists here in Boone County, the same as it does all over the country. It is tearing this nation apart. When urban minorities meet rural majorities, they take a step or two back in time. That’s a major contributor to the unease on our university campus. The county should act in the best interest of all. It can encourage minority hiring and promote minority set-asides in hiring and purchasing to promote a larger minority middle class, if it has the power to do so. There are many misconceptions we all have. We all need to work on this.

Cavanaugh: Boone County currently spends more than $7 million a year in community services, not including state and federal funds. The city of Columbia has a very long way to go to even start to catch up with the level of financial commitment Boone County has currently to socioeconomic issues. Boone County has a dedicated department — Community Services — that directs this effort.

Parry: I believe the county needs to collaborate with the city in these efforts. Due to the high cost of building permits, building affordable housing in Columbia is almost impossible. Home ownership is the one thing that can break the cycle of poverty. I volunteered for eight years as a commissioner for the Columbia Housing Authority. I also served on the board of the local Food Bank. I understand the cycles and challenges of poverty in our community. First and foremost, our efforts must be based on genuine concern and a willingness to serve this population, rather than politically correct lip service.

Pounds: I think the best thing we can do for our community is develop a good plan for economic development. If we can attract businesses to Boone County that are able to hire a lot of employees without a college degree, we can increase the opportunity in Boone County to succeed. Companies like Quaker Oats and Oscar Meyer require skilled workers without the need for a college degree.

6. Boone Hospital Center’s bond ratings were downgraded in late spring after a bond covenant violation. Meanwhile, the hospital’s board of trustees has issued a request for proposals for management of the hospital as the end of its lease with BJC Health Systems approaches. What are your thoughts on the management of the hospital and the trustees’ relationship with the Boone County Commission?

Farnen: BJC has done a generally good job of managing the hospital, and most employees and patients of the hospital that I have talked to are pleased with its performance. The hospital’s Board of Trustees sometimes seems indifferent about its relationship with the county commission. This was especially apparent in the board’s lack of timely communication with the commission when the bond covenant violation took place. I hope that having a new commissioner will provide an opportunity for the board to view the relationship with the county commission as a working partnership rather than a pro forma relationship that has to be endured.

Fowler: Boone Hospital is the people’s hospital. But, managed system is important. Boone is a very good hospital and it is important that the county commission continue to oversee and negotiate with BJC. This is an area where communication and education of the community needs improvement.

Lennon: I am very concerned that the commission was left in the dark about the health of the bonds that they issued in the first place. In fact, the hospital’s board of trustees discussed the violation in a closed session several months before the commission was even notified. These actions undermine the trust we place in our elected officials and reiterate the need for more accountability and transparency in county government.

Peters: A great deal has been learned in the past couple years, and the new lease coming through will be vastly improved. I believe Karen Miller has put the board of trustees on notice that the commission needs to be well informed.

Sullivan: The Boone Health Center itself delivers quality health care and appears well managed, as it runs at a profit. The new, but vacant, urgent care center is a concern that projection may have been overly optimistic, creating a drain on hospital profits. The bond rating downgrade and covenant violation raise the concern of commission oversight of hospital trustees despite the favorable outcome of the hospital revenue bond auction. It’s my understanding the trustees did not share critical information with the commission.

Cavanaugh: My thoughts on Boone Hospital? I have written very extensively about this issue on my Facebook page, Boone County For Cavanaugh. Please read it. Suffice to say, Boone Hospital is in crisis as a direct result of poor, self-serving leadership of the Boone Hospital Board of Trustees.

Parry: Boone Hospital is in excellent financial condition and is currently projected to have a $15.4 million profit in 2016 (EBITDA) that will be reinvested into the hospital. The trustees just refinanced the hospital's long-term debt and achieved $31,290,000 in savings over the lifetime of the debt. We have not conducted a market test on our lease relationship with BJC since 1988. We must see if there are better options out there for the long-term viability of our hospital. An RFP process for prospective new partners is a wise and prudent thing to do at this time.

Pounds: I do not support putting Boone Hospital under the University Hospital system management. I think reducing the options for health care in Boone County will not be beneficial to our community. I would like to see other management companies coming in to compete for the operations of Boone Hospital. The board should entertain all prospective management companies and ensure all parties have an opportunity to compete for management.

7. County commissioners have struggled for years to find a sound management plan for the Central Missouri Events Center. What would you do to change that?

Farnen: There are lots of ideas about what should be done with the fairgrounds, but no one has come forward with a specific plan on how to finance any of those ideas. A real consensus must be obtained on what the community wants to do with the property, and then a way to finance that consensus will need to be reached. I personally would like to see the county fair returned to the site, but that would just be one component of a much more comprehensive proposal that can make the site viable and an economic asset for the whole county.

Fowler: Again, communication must be the key, and I am open to figuring out varying models of management in order to find win-wins and efficiencies of scale that work.

Lennon: The CMEC is a great asset for Boone County, and the land has enormous potential for recreational and agricultural use by our citizens. I have confidence in the committee formed by Commissioner Dan Atwill to evaluate the center and propose viable solutions for maximizing the potential of the property and that a public-private partnership would be the best way to finance any proposed plan.

Peters: Public-private partnership and privately managed, it needs to become a destination location and a regional draw. A number of private companies are well-versed in this type of property redevelopment. This option should be explored.

Sullivan: I would start the process and develop a business plan for the Central Missouri Event Center. The plan should articulate the status of the current facilities, the potential events the center could attract, the improvements needed, costs, revenue sources and time lines. It should also include interim uses of the property while we work toward transforming it into an event center that can also host multiple events as well as the county fair for a couple of weeks each year. To ensure success, the commission should select a board of directors to set policies, hire an executive director whose compensation is tied to performance and hold public hearings.

Cavanaugh: Again, I have proposed a plan with three options for the end use of the property known as the Boone County Fairgrounds, now renamed Central Missouri Events Center. Please see my Facebook page, Boone County For Cavanaugh, for my proposal for the future of this potentially productive asset.

Parry: I have sponsored two separate town hall meetings with key stakeholders who are emotionally invested in the future of the Boone County Fairgrounds. More than 80 people attended the first meeting. The highest and best use of the fairgrounds is as a multi-faceted recreational complex that will serve the equestrian community, 4-H and FFA clubs, as well as league sports including baseball, soccer and lacrosse. With professional management and a sound business plan, our county fairgrounds is viable and will be a treasured asset for many years to come.

Pounds: I would invite organizations like the FFA, 4H, Boone County Fair Board, Columbia Parks and Recreation, the Chamber of Commerce and Convention and Visitors Bureau, as well as leaders from agricultural organizations such as beef, pork, poultry and equine industries to come together and come up with an operations plan that would include all these interested parties. This space should be utilized for activities involving all parties, and it is imperative for all to have a voice in order to make it benefit as many organizations as possible.

8. What would you do to improve public participation and transparency in county government?

Farnen: I am a Mizzou J-School graduate and former reporter, so I care about making sure county government is open and transparent. I am one of the few candidates that is proposing specific ideas, and one of them is an annual meeting that would include the public and media. Citizens and members of the traditional and new media would be invited to the meeting, which would include brief presentations from county elected officials and department heads. Participants would then meet with the presenters one-on-one rather than have a meeting where one person dominates the discussion.

Fowler: I am going to hold monthly office hours for any citizens, and I will work to travel the county (every road and business) in order to hear the citizens. I’m the only candidate that has driven every road in the county and in the cities in my 22 years working for the county as a sheriff’s deputy. I am the ONLY employee of Boone County among all the Democrat and Republican candidates. My experience is a plus. I know county government inside and out.

Lennon: We need to embrace technology as the most accessible way to reach out to and engage with the public. I would like to create an online accountability portal that is user friendly and makes the county’s financial and contractual information easy to understand. This information would be available 24 hours a day to any citizen or journalist. I would also look into the potential of live-streaming commission meetings, similar to City Council meetings.

Peters: I wouldn't work with CATV to air meetings and stream meetings on the Internet.

Sullivan: The way to increase public participation and increase transparency is to keep trying things until we get some results. It’s hard to capture people’s attention with so much excitement generated by the city, the university and the county. We could start by having at least one meeting a month in the evening when working people can attend and having town hall meetings on topics of interest to local residents. The county can conduct a satisfaction survey, possibly informing residents of services they had no idea existed. Commissioners could engage with the various service organizations throughout the county to discuss services and answer questions.

Cavanaugh: The reality is, apathy tends to be the rule not the exception in citizen involvement, with less than a 20 percent voter participation rate in the primary process. One of the things county government can do is hold commission meetings after work hours so that it is possible for people to attend without taking off from work. I think the Boone County auditor, June Pitchford, does an excellent job of making sure we have transparency and accountability.

Parry: To increase transparency and public participation, I would propose changing meeting times and meeting locations. We need to host meetings throughout the county to improve access to county government proceedings. We need to host some of our meetings during evening hours so that more citizens could attend and participate. We should investigate the viability of broadcasting meetings through local access cable or online streaming. Our current county commissioners and the county counselor would benefit from a refresher on Missouri's open meeting laws.

Pounds: I think transparency in our budget and spending is imperative. I would like to develop a spreadsheet outlining our budget and spending that is easily evaluated and accessible by the general public. Specifically, I’d like to take a look at the public works budget and gravel versus pavement money allocations to look into which option is the best for our county roads.

9. Sales tax comprises about 73 percent of Boone County’s revenue, but it’s an increasingly volatile source of income, especially given the rising amount of untaxed internet sales. What, if anything, should the county do to address that problem?

Farnen: The county needs to continue to push state and federal authorities to pass legislation that “streamlines” the collection of sales and use taxes to make it so that local merchants have a more equal footing with online sales opportunities. If state and federal legislators continue to be unresponsive, however, the county should pair with cities and other local groups, such as chambers of commerce and merchant associations, to organize an aggressive campaign to let people know why it is important to shop locally as much as possible.

Fowler: We need to continue to renew these, but we need to think of alternative sources of income, which include bringing manufacturing firms, etc., to the area. Ashland is growing, and development is proceeding well there due to the vision of its city leaders. We need more service work that gives high-paying jobs to professionals, as well. I will do my best to lure businesses, including entrepreneurial startups. We have a budding entrepreneurial culture with MU as a strong leader in this area with the Small Business Training and Development office, and I plan to reach out to MU and try to see how we can partner. I believe agribusiness and agritourism is coming on as well, and we should see more of that.

Lennon: Federal and Missouri law limit the sources of local government revenue used to build roads, fund public safety and provide other critical county services. Often, our local “brick-and-mortar” businesses are at a competitive disadvantage to large out-of-state online retailers. I would work with surrounding local governments to encourage Missouri to join many of its neighboring states in supporting e-fairness legislation that makes the administration of sales and uses taxes more fairly and efficiently for our local businesses and remote sellers.

Peters: Encourage the community to buy locally.

Sullivan: One of the things the county is already doing to create a more stable revenue source is ask voters to approve the “use tax.” This would provide the legal basis for the county to continue to collect taxes on out-of-state, large- ticket items. In addition to producing revenue to support government services, the use tax helps local businesses by deterring local residents from shopping out of state to avoid sales tax. I don’t know that there is a solution to the loss of sales tax through internet sales. Services provided by the county are not sustainable without this source of revenue.

Cavanaugh: I do not believe we have a volatile sales-tax revenue stream. We have a varying level of revenue collection due to local, regional and national trends. Good planning and leadership on behalf of Boone County and a consistent, fiscally conservative approach to sound, sustainable government will do more for our long-term financial stability than anything. It is not possible to address internet sales tax at the county level. This is an issue that will need to be considered by the state of Missouri.

Parry: Our local governments must do a better job of educating citizens on the merits of supporting locally owned businesses. Part of this educational process will involve showing how sales tax revenues fund 71 percent of vital services in the county. Local businesses must work harder to earn customer loyalty and provide benefits and services that outweigh the convenience of online shopping.

Pounds: At this time I believe that Columbia/Boone County have overtaxed themselves into a sales-tax equivalent to that of Kansas City or St. Louis. Columbia should not be competing with these much larger cities in regard to shopper demands. If we want to attract and encourage shopping in Columbia, we need to decrease the sales tax. I believe this has been a cause of our decreased sales-tax revenue.

10. What priorities unaddressed by the previous questions would you pursue as a county commissioner?

Farnen: The most common question I get is, “What does the county actually do?” I would make it a priority to improve communications with citizens to let them know about what services are available. The county’s website can be improved, and its social media efforts can be better organized. I also would hold regular “meeting hours” all over the Southern District so that citizens can talk to me about issues close to home. I also would make it a priority to work with county employees and go out with them on their rounds to better understand what they do each day. 

Fowler: I would do my best to see public safety as a priority. I am the only candidate with public safety experience. I’ve defended and protected the county for 22 years. We are in an age of heightened crime, and Columbia and the county have felt it. I would work with Sheriff (Dwayne) Carey and carry out his excellent work in making the county safer. That and education and assisting the end of the school-to-prison pipeline, as well as allowing for more public confidence in the public education system (and helping MU maintain its excellence) are two of my top three priorities. The other one is related to No. 9 and growth of the county and cities’ economies.

Lennon: Missouri is known for having some of the laxest ethics requirements in the country for public officials. I believe we can do better in Boone County by requiring lobbyists to register with the county and banning lobbyist gifts to Boone County elected officials.

Peters: Economic development:

  • Support local business development to help existing businesses grow and thrive.
  • Enhance the entrepreneurial ecosystem to help Boone County residents turn their ideas into the next great local company.
  • Support recruitment of quality companies to bring more living wage jobs to Boone County.
  • Capitalize on experience and contacts in the biotech sector.
  • Support public-private partnership for fairgrounds redevelopment to turn that county asset into an economic driver.
  • Settle with the city of Columbia on TIF lawsuit and foster more effective regional cooperation for job creation and retention.
  • Careful cost/benefit analysis and judicious use of incentives like Chapter 100 bonds.

Public safety:

  • Continue community collaborations to address overcrowding in Boone County Jail through better linkage with services for those with mental health challenges.
  • Target county social services funding with requests for proposals that make community-level impacts and increase public safety.
  • Encourage community policing in the pockets of high crime areas in the county.
  • Increase collaboration with Boone County cities and the University of Missouri for a more seamless approach to public-safety issues.
  • Monitor closely expenditures in the 911 Center and ensure seamless integration with all police and fire agencies.

Strategic planning/social justice:

  • Implement a participatory process of stakeholder engagement for a county strategic planning initiative.
  • Ensure Boone County has equal opportunity for all of its citizens to thrive.
  • Examine all county communications and ensure inclusivity.
  • Encourage mentoring and youth development to create the next generation of great Boone County leaders.

Sullivan: There is plenty to work on to get the county on the right track with a good, strong business perspective. The issues with the highest priorities are covered above: the event center, the hospital, the looming potential for sales tax loss and greater transparency and participation in county government. The county has done good work with the utilization of new technologies for cost-effect maintenance of our roads and bridges and managing expectations on the kinds of new development that are appropriate for unincorporated areas of the county. An additional concern I have is keeping the cost of living in the moderate range to attract newcomers and new businesses. As the county and cities within it grow, there are always added public investments required — schools, parks, branch libraries, firehouses, police substations, and roads and bridges. As cities continue to expand into the county, county government can take a leadership position to coordinate some of this growth so the investment in public facilities to meet the demand for adequate public amenities doesn’t outstrip our means to finance them.

Cavanaugh: Without fail, the single biggest issue of this election cycle for this race is the Boone Hospital crisis. Our largest asset, with almost 2,000 employees and $307 million in revenues is at risk. It is run by the Boone Hospital Board of Trustees, which is accountable to no one. The leadership, vision, self-serving attitude and disregard for the owners of that asset, we the citizens of Boone County, is appalling.

Parry: Crime: Columbia and Boone County have experienced a dramatic increase in violent crime. Due to overcrowding and staffing issues at the Boone County Jail, repeat offenders are receiving the benefit of alternative sentencing from our judges in the 13th Circuit. I will find a way to bring law enforcement, judges and other stakeholders to the table to find new solutions to these issues.

Pounds: Several issues I addressed in previous questions would be an excellent starting point as county commissioner.


Boone County Northern District Commissioner

Who's running

Democrat

Janet Thompson was elected Northern District commissioner in 2012. Before that, Thompson spent almost 25 years with the state Public Defender System, and served as a disciplinary hearing officer for the Missouri Bar. She is on the boards of the the Criminal Justice Administration, Boone County Health Department, Boone County Family Resources, Judicial and Law Enforcement Task Force, and Columbia Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. She moved to Boone County with her family in 1959.

Republican 

Brenndan Riddles, an electrician with Schneider Electric and a Boone County resident since 1978, filed for office in March. Along with his electrical work, Riddles spent 10 years as an officer with Motocross Parents, a nonprofit organization that helps put together motocross races. 

Questions

1. Over the past five years Boone County tied  Platte as the fastest growing county in Missouri, with estimated population growth of 7.6 percent. How would you assess county government’s performance in keeping up with the infrastructure demands that growth creates, and what would you do differently?

Thompson: Unlike Columbia, Boone County doesn’t directly control utilities, like water, electric, and sewer. Most people in unincorporated Boone County receive services through agencies whose work the county doesn’t direct. County Public Works and Resource Management departments provide us all information about standards for developing and maintaining roads and bridges, best practices in creating transportation networks and development projects and balancing funding availability with needs. Plans for organized land development exist for some areas, but not others. South of Columbia is experiencing a development explosion, yet we lack comprehensive plans to address infrastructure requirements. We are working toward addressing that need.

Riddles: We are fortunate to have a great bunch of professionals employed by Boone County, and they have stepped up mightily. As we might expect, not everyone is happy all of the time, but most of those concerns are matters of communication.

2. What is your assessment of county government’s relationship with the city of Columbia and with the governments of other cities, towns and villages in the county?Thompson: The county and all of its sister entities collaborate at every level of government. Communication can always be improved and should be had on the front end of projects, rather than as an afterthought. This kind of communication can improve our mutual responses to land-use issues, help us to leverage our joint interests in bringing in outside resources and ultimately serve our mutual constituents better.

Riddles: Strained but functional with the city of Columbia, and I hope to help calm damaged relationships.

3. Do you believe Boone County should consider a charter form of government? Why or why not?

Thompson: Boone County voters have rejected proceeding with a charter form of government twice in recent years. I would not support heading down that path, which entails the expenditure of money and time that could be better spent elsewhere, unless there were a strong show of support from the people. Further, I believe that the current model, in which the elected officials who are making and implementing decisions are directly responsible to the people, is a better choice than one in which a manager and his or her decisions are insulated from voter review.

Riddles: I think it may be time to consider that, but there are hotter irons to tend just now.

4. What strategies can Boone County government employ to boost economic development and create jobs?

Thompson: We must support our educational institutions, from our K-12 school systems through our community colleges, universities and trade schools. We must encourage businesses to connect with local workers and work to enhance programs through REDI and other entities to provide a workforce that is ready to go.

Riddles: Government can only create an advantageous environment for economic growth; it cannot create private sector jobs. One the best ways is to provide a safe, stable and dependable area for every company to grow. I think this is best provided with the reliable law enforcement we have in our sheriff's department, and the solid roads and bridges we have that are prioritized by the traffic-load metrics developed by our department leadership.

5. The city of Columbia has embarked on an ambitious plan to address social and economic disparities between white and minority residents. Do you believe the county should engage in a similar effort and, if so, what would that look like?

Thompson: The county is directly impacting deeply rooted disparities. The Children’s Services Fund provides programs that create safety nets for children and their families and address mental health-based needs often exacerbated by economic disparities. The county’s Community Health Fund supports programs to address health-care disparities in the African-American community. The county’s Stepping Up Initiative is addressing how to better utilize health-care, judicial, law enforcement and neighborhood services resources for those affected by mental illness.

Riddles: The city of Columbia has embarked on an ambitious plan to address social and economic disparities between white and minority residents. 

6. Boone Hospital Center’s bond ratings were downgraded in late spring after a bond covenant violation. Meanwhile, the hospital’s board of trustees has issued a request for proposals for management of the hospital as the end of its lease with BJC Health Systems approaches. What are your thoughts on the management of the hospital and the trustees’ relationship with the Boone County Commission?

Thompson: People must have input in determining the future of Boone Hospital and how and by whom health care is delivered. The people paid for much of the original building and own over seven acres of the land. The people must have health care options and keeping Boone Hospital independent of the university could maintain that choice. In any negotiation, the people should receive payment for the use of their asset. Payments under the current lease provide resources to the people, including community health dollars, which enhance community health and welfare.

Riddles: The hospital board is elected and not subordinate to the county commission. I think the board has violated the trust, if not the law, and should be held accountable for its actions at the ballot box, if nowhere else. The RFPs sent out is a normal and proper thing to do as we near the end of a contract like this one, and all responses should be given due consideration for how the county of Boone and the citizens of Boone County will be affected.

7. County commissioners have struggled for years to find a sound management plan for the Central Missouri Events Center. What would you do to change that?

Thompson: The CMEC is an unrealized, underdeveloped asset that can attract tourism dollars from visitors and provide a venue for a wide variety of activities. Any plan must reflect community needs and maximize the property’s potential. Economic support for the property can be achieved with public revenue — sales or hospitality tax; private revenue — a nonprofit for special projects; and revenue the property generates.

Riddles: Now that they have run it into the ground and damaged all the relationships with the many organizations that used the fairgrounds regularly and locked the people of Boone County out, it is going to take some money and a lot of hard work to rebuild the trust with the community. This is a part of the job I am well suited to and have years of experience at.

8. What would you do to improve public participation and transparency in county government?

Thompson: I would like to increase the number of young people and people of color on the county’s boards and commissions. I know this can be an economic burden for many people, but the presence of people with different perspectives on those boards can have a significant positive impact on policy.

Riddles: Get out of downtown Columbia and make use of social media. What I plan is to breakfast around the county on a regular basis and at predictable locations. In short I plan to go to the people, not wait for them to come to me.

9. Sales tax comprises about 73 percent of Boone County’s revenue, but it’s an increasingly volatile source of income, especially given the rising amount of untaxed internet sales. What, if anything, should the county do to address that problem?

Thompson: Boone County does not have a use tax in place, and, as the question suggests, the increasing ability of Boone Countians to make their purchases online has led to a reduction in sales-tax revenues. This, of course, also impacts local merchants, who have to compete against out-of-state entities like Amazon and get no redress because of the unfair playing field. Congress needs to pass the Marketplace Fairness Act, and local governments need to have in place a use tax.

Riddles: Court internet sales companies by pointing out and offering to share our great infrastructure, clean air, clean water and great weather; all that and a great workforce, too. Yes, I am proud to be part of the force that is making Boone County better.

10. What priorities unaddressed by the previous questions would you pursue as a county commissioner?

Thompson: If re-elected, I will continue to work to realign our resources so that those who suffer from mental illness will not clog the judicial and law enforcement systems, using those resources at a much higher rate and with much less success than their counterparts without mental illness. We can and we must do better by these individuals and the systems in which they find themselves.

Riddles: I would like to see the Soldiers Monument restored to its rightful place of honor and see that all the names that belong on it are there.

Supervising editor is Jeanne Abbott

  • Assistant Sports Editor for the Columbia Missourian

  • Samantha Brown is a student at the University of Missouri majoring in English and Journalism.

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