Muleskinner’s Forum

All five candidates in contention for City Council seats in the April 3 municipal election attended a forum hosted by the Boone County Muleskinners, a Democratic civic club, on Friday afternoon at Columbia Country Club. While discussion of local issues dominated the discussion, candidates also entertained questions about reproductive rights, health care reform at the national level, theories about job creation and how to spend from city coffers more wisely.

Reproductive rights

Diane Booth, a resident of the Fifth Ward, asked the candidates about the self-insured health care system in Columbia and whether they would support contraceptive use and abortions related to the Affordable Health Care act.

Candidate Bill Pauls of the Fifth Ward identified himself as a “faithful Catholic” and said that obligated him to oppose abortion.

Incumbent Barbara Hoppe in the Sixth Ward said she supported a woman’s right to decide, with consultation of her family and others, what to do with her body and that government shouldn’t be involved in the process. She added that the city has made strides to evaluate the health impacts of its ordinances.

Candidate Bill Tillotson in the Sixth Ward said he attended the same church as Pauls, but that “I’m not quite as good a Catholic as Bill is.” He said he supported an individual’s right to make decisions about their own life, but described himself as “pro-life.”

On the issue of health care and insurance, Tillotson, an independent insurance agent, delivered some news the largely retirement-aged crowd were critical of.

“I can tell you right now, with the health care reform, you people on Medicare are going to see premiums of $800 and $900 a month,” Tillotson said, which sparked a great deal of murmuring and an audible cry of “I don’t believe that.”

Candidate Mike Atkinson of the Second Ward said he’d look at health care plans holistically and had no intention of removing benefits from a plan based on personal beliefs.

“I want the health care packages to be as beneficial — to the demographics that they support — as they can be,” Atkinson said. He added that health care programs should be need-based.

Candidate Michael Trapp from the Second Ward got the most enthusiastic round of applause of the forum for defending not just the reproductive rights of women, but rights in all aspects of life.

“I believe fundamentally in a woman’s right to choose,” Trapp said. “I’m very hesitant any time that men put themselves in a position to tell women what to do.” Trapp said standing up for women’s equality and reproductive rights would attract “quality individuals” to Columbia.

Job creation and economic development

Randy Minchew, who identified himself as a founder of the Columbia Incubator for small businesses, said he was pro-business and pro-growth and asked Hoppe specifically about comments she had made in the Columbia Daily Tribune suggesting the Columbia Chamber of Commerce has a hidden agenda “that does not comprehensively focus on economic development.”

Hoppe said her comments stemmed from her work to save Stephens Lake Park from being sold for development.

“That was a part of the big picture of economic development, community development and environmental development,” Hoppe said. “The Chamber was against it.”

The other candidates used their time to speak about job growth and the actions of the Chamber of Commerce specifically.

Tillotson said the city should prioritize bringing in both small businesses and the professional class of doctors and attorneys in town.

“We need to support all types of business in a correct, controlled manner,” Tillotson said.

Atkinson encouraged the city’s promotion of small business, particularly to recent college graduates in town. Atkinson said of Minchew’s small business incubator that it was an initiative he “respect(ed) immensely.”

“What that does is gives business owners — and potential business owners — an opportunity to launch their businesses with mitigating a lot of the risks,” Atkinson said.

Trapp said his background in public service may make him appear to be anti-business, but that’s not the case. He agreed with Hoppe that the Chamber of Commerce has a narrow view of what economic development could be.

“If we look at things more holistically, we do want a good climate for business,” Trapp said. “But things like parks, let’s bring that together as well.”

Pauls, who received the endorsement of the Chamber of Commerce in February, said he had not sought its support specifically but that it showed his willingness and ability to listen to a number of different interests.

“I will not play favorites with anyone,” Pauls said.

City spending

Though no one in the audience asked specifically about city spending, it was an undercurrent to the discussion on Friday. Tillotson said he, Mayor Bob McDavid and Deputy City Manger Tony St. Romaine sat down and found an additional $1.5 million in savings in the city’s health care plan.

“There’s a lot of money sitting there — we can hire more firemen, we can better train our police department, we can fix our transit problem,” Tillotson said.

Hoppe said the city was in a good place financial after saving money for the economic hard times.

“Everything is improving,” Hoppe said. “Sales tax is up. The fiscal state of the city is good.”

Atkinson said fixing the $2.3 million deficit in the general fund would allow for multiple projects, including the hiring of new police officers, as per a recent consulting firm’s recommendation.

The candidates will next be speaking at a forum hosted by the Boone County League of Women Voters at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Daniel Boone Regional Library, 100 W. Broadway.

Visit the Missourian for complete coverage of the Muleskinners forum.

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