Standing Room Only: Columbia residents pack Neighborhood Town Hall

Standing Room Only: Columbia residents pack Neighborhood Town Hall

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Ahead of Columbia’s April municipal election, all Mayoral, Ward 3, and Ward 4 candidates were invited to answer questions from workers and sign on to the Neighborhood Pledge 

COLUMBIA – More than 125 Columbia residents packed the Benton Elementary Gymnasium on Saturday, March 12th to hear from candidates for Columbia City Council Ward 3, Ward 4, and Mayor. Every candidate was asked questions directly from Columbia workers and asked to sign The Neighborhood Pledge. Questions ranged from homelessness and transportation, to policing and protecting public services from privatization. 

In attendance were mayoral candidates Barbara Buffaloe, David Seamon, Tanya Heath, and Randy Minchew; Ward 3 candidates Roy Lovelady and Karl Skala; and Ward 4 candidates Nick Foster and Erica Pefferman. Questions were asked by workers and community members representing Daniel Boone Regional Library Workers United, Laborers Local 955, Local Motion, Race Matters Friends Community Bail Fund, and Operation Safe Winter Columbia.

“We know that the lack of a thriving bus system is a significant obstacle for Columbia when it comes to economic mobility, access to jobs, and quality of life,” said Rikki Ascani, Community Engagement Coordinator with Local Motion. “Every year we survey Columbia residents, and 70% of those who take the bus as their main transportation said they are not able to participate in local government as much as they would like.”

Brandon Brubaker has depended on public transportation for the past ten years. “After emergency brain surgery, I developed epileptic seizures and could no longer drive,” said Brandon. “I used to never have to worry about how I would get home or to work because I knew the city bus would be coming by. With the current routes, I do not have that luxury anymore. The nearest bus stops are miles away.” 

Tori Patrick, a worker at Daniel Boone Regional Library, pushed the candidates to publicly and vocally support all workers in Columbia. “Since our campaign went public last month, our administration has been relentless in spreading misinformation and trying to bust our union,” said Tori Patrick of Daniel Boone Regional Library Workers United. “How will you as mayor support public and private sector workers, laborers, custodians, teachers, and library staff as they fight for better working conditions, better wages, and dignity on the job?”

Columbia Solid Waste workers raised their hands and lined up to the mic. “I’ve worked for the city of Columbia Solid Waste Department for the past three years. My wife and I live here in Columbia and have 3 kids with one on the way,” said Justin Dueber. “With talk of the City Solid Waste Department potentially being privatized, our plans to buy a bigger home have been put on hold. We are wanting a straightforward answer here. If the privatization of solid waste or city utilities came to a vote would you vote Yes or No to privatize?”

Every candidate said they would vote No – some with an asterisk. “This is not fair, given it is a yes or no. I would vote no but I have an asterisk, and you can feel free to come back to me then,” stated Pefferman.

Dueber did come back to Erica Pefferman and Randy Minchew, to clarify their past pro-privatization statements. “These workers back here,” said Jim Brown, who has worked for the city for 26 years, “they need to have a say. They are the ones who know what is going on. They don’t always get their say.”

The Town Hall wrapped up with, “Yes or No, will you sign on to the Neighborhood Pledge?”

The following candidates signed on to the pledge: mayoral candidates Barbara Buffaloe, David Seamon, Tanya Heath, and Randy Minchew; Ward 3 candidates Roy Lovelady and Karl Skala; and Ward 4 candidate Nick Foster. Erica Pefferman declined to sign on. 

Missouri Jobs with Justice Voter Action and members will continue to canvass and talk to our Columbia neighbors about the Neighborhood Pledge and hold our leaders accountable.

“Through the work of the Neighborhood Pledge, I am more connected to my community and hear the same heartfelt issues over and over again,” said Galen Zavala, a college student, and YDSA member. “It’s obvious that we have infrastructure problems and as voters, we are ready for leaders to really tackle these issues, and commit to following through after Election Day.”

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The Neighborhood Pledge was developed in 2019 with a coalition of community groups and Columbia residents to bring community issues and values directly to our elected officials and candidates running to serve our communities. For the past three years, Missouri Jobs with Justice Voter Action and community leaders have come together to demand Columbia city leaders look out for our families and communities. From this work, volunteers have knocked on hundreds of doors to hear directly from our neighbors. Coalition members include Daniel Boone Regional Library Workers United, IUE-CWA Local 86821, Laborers Local 955, Local Motion, Mid-Missouri DSA, Missouri Jobs With Justice Voter Action, North Central Columbia Neighborhood Association, and YDSA.

Watch the town hall questions and each candidate’s answers here.