Engagement. Neighborhoods. One Columbia. Building blocks. Each candidate for City Council brought their own ideas to the table on how to move Columbia forward following the April municipal election.
The Columbia Board of Realtors hosted the first public forum of the 2020 election cycle for both Columbia Public School's School Board and Columbia City Council candidates Tuesday night.
Pat Fowler, chairperson of Columbia’s Historic Preservation Commission; Greg Pierson, MU student; and Mark Anderson, lifelong Columbia resident, will be running for the First Ward City Council seat and attended the public forum. Fifth Ward Councilman Matt Pitzer also attended the forum, as he is unopposed for reelection to a second term.
David Lile, host of Columbia Morning on KFRU/98.9 FM Columbia, moderated the event.
Each candidate was able to provide a short introduction before the questions began.
Pitzer said he will continue to focus on promised infrastructure improvements. He said he will "rip the Band-Aid off" and complete the construction projects for which Columbia residents have already paid taxes.
Anderson began the forum by referring to his "One Columbia" campaign — looking at Columbia as a cohesive city and building policy this way. He made an analogy to the city looking outside the box, while he wants to look at an entirely new box.
"We need tear that box up and do something different … so everyone can benefit,” Anderson said.
His answers to the forum questions maintained the idea of keeping the priorities of all Columbia residents and councilmembers in mind when making ordinances.
Fowler opened the forum with fond memories of growing up in a neighborhood and how that has translated to her beliefs as a City Council candidate. She touched on both the responsibilities and benefits that come along with having neighbors that one knows and trusts.
Pierson centered his answers around engaging the community, especially students, and making sure all residents are able to have their voice heard. He also said his main priorities are affordable housing, improving infrastructure and reducing crime and gun violence.
The issue of short-term rentals, like those available through Airbnb and HomeAway, were raised by a community member — a controversial issue for the council as of late. While no candidate was outright against short-term rentals, each had their own take on how to make the most effective system.
Pitzer has been directly involved with the council decisions regarding the proposed short-term rental ordinances. On the debate around unhosted rentals in Columbia, Pitzer said he would like to see unhosted options available, "but have the ability to police the bad actors and to take corrective actions when it’s needed."
Fowler said she wants the council to consider the effects that unhosted rentals may have on affordable housing. She worries that people buying property to rent unhosted could displace Columbia residents who could afford these properties.
Pierson said he wants to learn more about the issue, as he's only lived in Columbia since August 2019, but said MU brings a lot of people to campus for various events, so it should provide input and help work with City Council during the short-term rental process.
Anderson said he thinks that short-term rentals are good but that City Council needs to finalize ordinances and "put this thing to bed."
Downtown student housing
Lile asked how each candidate felt about student housing in Columbia's downtown districts.
Anderson said there are both good and bad aspects of student housing, and has seen the city both before and after student housing went up downtown. On one hand, he sees why parents would enjoy their children living in the center of town, rather than outside of the downtown area. On the other hand, older residents may have less access to everything that is offered downtown with the large amount of students always present.
Maintaining her neighborhood perspective, Fowler said she would prefer that students live in neighborhoods so there are "caring adults" around to keep an eye on 18- to 25-year-olds who would be living in unsupervised buildings otherwise. She said she hopes students are creating their own neighborhoods when they move out of on-campus housing.
Pierson said he wants students who live downtown to make a positive impact "on the character and historical preservation" of the downtown area and learn about the area they are living in.
The First Ward consists of MU's campus, Columbia College and much of Stephens College. The ward ends just north of Broadway and extends west to Silvey Street, past Stadium Boulevard, which includes Worley Street.
Concluding thoughts from both Fowler and Pierson centered around increasing voter turnout in the First Ward. Pierson noted the untapped potential of students voting in municipal elections and said one of his main priorities in the coming months is to get students registered to vote. Anderson concluded his remarks to reaffirm his "One Columbia" and said he wants to find a way for the entire city to work together through City Council.
Current First Ward council member Clyde Ruffin decided not to run for another term, opening the seat for the April 7 election. He was first elected in 2015.
Supervising editor is Galen Bacharier.