Put charitably, Thursday’s Columbus Exchange Club meeting/candidate forum was an example of brevity being the soul of wit.
Candidates for city council races were given five minutes each to speak, which turned out to be more than enough time in every case as they spoke mostly in generalities about the issues facing the city and their plans to address them.
Five candidates in three contested races participated in the forum while a sixth, Jacqueline DiCicco, attended though she has no opponent in the June 8 general election after defeating incumbent Bill Gavin in the April 6 Republican primary. Patricia Ann Douglas, who has contested Marty Turner’s victory in the April 6 Ward 4 Democratic primary, attended but was not provided a formal opportunity to speak.
The two other contested candidates, Ward 1 incumbent Democrat Ethel Stewart and Ward 3 Democrat Sally Brown Tate, did not attend.
Candidates touched on topics including city finances and spending, crime, street paving and public works, and youth programs, mainly content to acknowledge the issues but offering little about specific plans to address them.
Turner, who is seeking to reclaim the Ward 4 council seat he held from 2013-17, emphasized his achievements during his single term, specifically a 14th Avenue ditch project.
“Before I became a councilman, there was about $500,000 spent in the entire ward,” Turner said. “During my time on the council, $7.2 million was spent in Ward 4. People on 26th and 27h avenues couldn’t even flush their toilets when it rained, and a part of that was the situation on 14th Avenue. We were able to get that project done for those people. I also worked closely with federal programs getting grants and programs that we were missing out on. Of that $7.2 million, only 20 percent came from (city) taxes.”
Ward 4 incumbent Pierre Beard, an independent, said the key to progress in the next term will be bringing the community together.
“I still believe that’s very important,” Beard said. “Without unity, you can’t have community. So I’ll continue to look for ways we can all work together and promise to continue to lead with integrity built on trust. This is your community and I work for you, the people.”
Ward 3 Republican Rusty Greene offered one of the few specific goals presented at the forum.
“The public works department has a $3 million budget,” Greene said. “As a resident of Ward 3, I don’t think I’m getting $500,000 worth of service. I support the idea of breaking up the public works department into six individual areas with their own funds so each councilman can be accountable in their own area.”
One of Greene’s Ward 3 opponents, independent Kori Bridges, said he was troubled by crime in the city, pointing out that many of the offenders are teens.
“I remember growing up in the city and the programs we had then, like the ones at the YMCA, Sim Scott and Propst Park,” Bridges said. “We need to be investing in our young people. The reason we have so much crime is we don’t have anything for those young people to do. Love is an action word. We need to be investing in our children if we want Columbus to be the city it used to be.”
Ward 1 independent Kallie Phillips said she was motivated to run for council after the city fell into financial difficulty in 2018 that culminated with the embezzlement arrest of the city’s former Chief Financial Officer Milton Rawle.
“My initial motivation to run was because of the budget issues in the city,” said Phillips, noting her background as a certified public accountant. “What stood out was that we had money stolen from us and I just couldn’t understand why there were no internal controls that would have prevented that. The financial situation doesn’t seem to be getting any better. It’s, ‘we’re just going to raise taxes for whatever it is we want.’”
Phillips said one way to streamline spending would be to privatize some city services, noting that “sometimes it’s cheaper to buy a new dress than make your own.”