COLUMBIA — The city’s three-year plan to reduce economic disparity is now fully underway. City Manager Mike Matthes on Thursday morning introduced the four people who have been hired to help implement the plan and said they possess the talent the city was missing.
Carl Kenney, James Whitt, Glenn Cobbins Sr. and Judy Hubbard will fan out into three neighborhoods the city is targeting with the initiative, City Communications Director Steven Sapp said.
Their goal is to boost small businesses and residents and improve communication between city officials and the neighborhoods.
Sapp said the new partners have the skills necessary to bridge the gap between the city and the community and they understand neighbors' needs.
“I don’t have that relationship with people living there to have an open, honest conversation about their needs are,” Sapp said.
Cobbins and Hubbard in 2000 founded the Imani Mission Center, an outreach program in which they worked together with low-income families and provided activities for young people. The center closed last summer.
Both Cobbins and Hubbard will be part-time temporary employees until October, Sapp said, and they will be paid $11 an hour.
Hubbard and Cobbins said it's a great opportunity to build on their previous work.
“We have heard their cries and cried with them, and now we have a voice that’s more impactful for them,” Hubbard said.
Cobbins said their main job will be to convince people that the city wants to help them.
“We have to build up the trust and let them know that the strategic plan is not fake," Cobbins said. "If they don’t trust you, they won’t tell you what they need.”
Hubbard said they already have suggested some changes.
“Just moving a bus station up in the second area, the north area, half a mile (toward) the border means a lot for the working poor. Small changes make a huge difference to people.”
The other new partners, Kenney and Whitt, will have contracts that continue until their work is completed, Sapp said.
Kenney has been an adjunct instructor at the Missouri School of Journalism and a columnist for the Missourian. He said his main aim will be to create opportunities for those in need by bringing residents together with key players in the city. He will earn $48,000 for his job.
Whitt has been working with GE for 23 years and is president of the Columbia School Board. He will work with local agencies to help Disadvantaged Business Enterprises — including minority- and women-owned businesses — compete for government opportunities and contracts. Whitt will earn $36,000 for his work.
Kenney said eliminating economic disparity, especially between whites and minorities, is the main focus of his job and the strategic plan. He repeated what Mayor Bob McDavid said Thursday: The city has to do a better job of addressing the 20 percent poverty rate and of helping the 24 percent of people who are underemployed, meaning they have two full-time minimum wage jobs and still struggle to pay their bills.
“The primary concern is economic disparity," Kenney said. "That’s the real emphasis of this project: to create opportunities for those who need it. We have a horrific disparity between people based on race. That has to be the focus."
Kenney said this is a chance to put all players to work and said that in the coming weeks he will start conversations with key players to see what they can offer.
Whitt said he will develop and assist local companies in competing for large contracts. Small business owners, he said, have told him that their main concerns are bidding processes and complex paperwork, as well as getting enough financial support from banks.
“There are some big barriers that we will help them with,” Whitt said.
The four new hires haven't been entirely well-received. The local activist group Race Matters, Friends has filed a records request with the city, asking for work proposals, resumes, contractual agreements and documents detailing the scope of services the four partners will provide. They also asked what criteria were used to select Cobbins, Hubbard, Kenney and Whitt.
Community activist Traci Wilson-Kleekamp told the Missourian that the group wants to know whether there was a public request for proposals and how Matthes decided to hire these people.
“Why would I/we be confident about the new hires?" Wilson-Kleekamp asked in an email. "We don't know what they will be doing or what is their track record of success? Just because the City Manager says he's confident in the new hires — it doesn't make it so."
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