Candidates in Columbia’s upcoming City Council races talked affordable housing, homelessness and public safety during the first public forum of their campaigns Tuesday, hosted by the Columbia Board of Realtors.
Nick Knoth, who serves on the board of directors for the Boys and Girls Club of Columbia, is challenging incumbent Pat Fowler for the city’s First Ward seat. Knoth previously ran for Boone County Recorder of Deeds last year but lost in the primary. Bob Nolte ended up winning that position.
Fowler announced in a Facebook post Tuesday that she would not be able to attend the forum due to work and caring for her mother.
Don Waterman and Gregg Bush are vying for the Fifth Ward seat. Incumbent Matt Pitzer announced in October that he would not seek reelection.
Waterman works as a demand analyst for American Outdoor Brands, a firm that manufactures and distributes outdoor hunting and fishing accessories. He served 24 years in the U.S. Navy and previously ran as a Republican for the Missouri House of Representative’s 46th District seat in 2016. He lost to Democrat Martha Stevens.
Bush, who is a registered nurse, works as a coordinator for patient education and has been in health care since he moved to Columbia in 2006.
Waterman said building affordable homes is necessary, and it should be done in a reasonable, economically and environmentally friendly way.
Bush said that more public and private partnerships can get more affordable housing built and draw more people to Columbia.
“Five months from now, five years from now, five decades from now, as we continue to grow, we’ll draw in the best from around all all of us,” Bush said.
Knoth said more affordable housing is necessary. He said the city should create programs that look into issues such as dilapidated housing and development zoning issues.
When asked about how to entice developers to create more affordable housing, Knoth said that no single marketplace can address this alone and that everyone needs to work together.
Bush said workers need multiple housing developers and a variety of affordable housing structures for working families, such as condos, duplexes and apartments.
Waterman said he doesn’t have an answer to the problem yet. He said there are several possible solutions such as renovations, continued development and converting existing structures into multi-use and multi-family dwellings.
Knoth said the community’s trust issues with police will not be resolved without bringing everyone to the table — an idea he emphasized throughout the night.
“If we can work with our officers, with our community, to make it a police department where people are proud of it and respect it, I think that will go a long way,” Knoth said.
Waterman, who said his impression is that crime has gotten worse during the 20 years he’s lived in Columbia, argued that the city will not get safer with fewer officers.
“What we need to work on is getting the police force back to full strength, which is going to go a long way toward making us safer and being that gem that we’ve been,” Waterman said.
Although he said officers’ salaries should be addressed, Waterman also suggested working with K-12 students to get them interested in law enforcement careers in order to help fill the Police Department’s vacancies.
Bush, however, said public safety is about a lot more than just police.
“Someone who’s in distress does not need an armed response,” Bush said. “How does crime decrease? Increasing economic opportunity, making sure people have access to clean air, clean water, food, education.”
Safe communities, Bush said, are created by finding the connectors that exist in people and the conditions that value diversity of all sorts.
Both Bush and Waterman said they oppose the implementation of Fusus, a software that allows police to view registered business cameras in real time that the City Council voted not to purchase in November. Knoth, however, said that there was a lot of misinformation floating around on that topic last year and that he could not give a yes or no to Fusus without a more robust discussion.
Waterman said the city’s heart is in the right place by moving forward with a comprehensive homeless services center. However, he said the federal funding only allows for two years of operation, and that shows the risk of using grant money to address the issue.
“If it is done in conjunction with the Voluntary Action Center to where we can get funds, private donations, private fundraising, then I think that’s a great thing and certainly something worth looking into,” Waterman said.
Bush argued that addiction and poverty should not be criminalized because they are public health issues rather than criminal justice issues. He also said the city’s work on the homeless shelter is an investment.
“That funding might end at the end of two years, but the investments that you’ve made in our community helpers, we can find ways to continue to help these people,” Bush said.
Knoth added that criminalizing addiction would also waste public safety resources. He also said homelessness in the city is a symptom of a larger issue.
“There’s a half dozen nonprofits working in tandem to provide services and to get that up and going,” Knoth said. “But they can only do so much. And again, we’re looking at a symptom and not the cause.”