The Columbia Chamber of Commerce hosted a candidate forum Tuesday night for those seeking election to the Columbia City Council and Columbia School Board on April 2.
At the event, which took place at The Falls, each candidate was given three minutes to give a description of his or her candidacy.
No questions were allowed from the dozens of citizens in attendance, though audience members had the opportunity to meet the candidates after their speeches.
City council candidates
The Columbia City Council candidates went first, starting with Ward I candidates Steven Reis and Jay Riddle.
Reis, who has served as an alderman for eight years, said he would focus on a number of issues if elected, including working with other city council members and keeping matters brought to him by citizens private.
“I will remember that I am not dealing with just a code or a law, but a citizen whose problems may affect that person’s family and economic stability,” Reis added. “My responsibilities include these related problems if I am to care for them adequately.”
Riddle highlighted his community service in areas like youth coaching and at Turner Hall.
“I believe that I can be a good person to be on the city council, have new thought processes and just kind of put my information in that I’ve been here through the city,” he said.
In the Ward II race, incumbent Kevin Martens spoke about the growth the city has seen during his four-year tenure as alderman. He said continuing that momentum would be his priority.
“We need to get good jobs, good development and just keep growing the city in the right way,” Martens said. “The same is true in that we don’t need people who are outside the city trying to dictate our elections. If you’re going to run, we need to not be beholden to anyone.”
Harold McCarty Jr., Martens’ challenger, pointed out the numerous projects that were completed during his previous tenure with Columbia’s Department of Public Works. He said that experience would be an important asset on the council.
“I know how to treat people, and I know how I want to be treated,” he said. “But right now I don’t think that you have a voice in City Hall. A lot of people have told me they’ve got a complaint, but nobody listens. But I will listen.”
In the race for Ward IV, incumbent Steve Holtkamp spoke about the expansion the city has seen both residentially and commercially during his six years on the council.
“The most immediate concern facing our community is attracting the growth in both residential and commercial development to complement what we already have,” he said. “Careful evaluation of the city’s needs as a growing community is of the utmost importance to me as a city council member.”
Patrick McDermott, who is running against Holtkamp, told citizens about the work he has done in the community, including as a member of the Kiwanis Club and a youth sports coach. He also said he has been attending city council meetings for the last four years.
“If elected, I will work for better city government transparency,” McDermott said. “For one example, I go to City Hall meetings. It would be nice to have a handout saying ‘this is the ordinance, those are the new ordinances and this is why.’ Currently, you have to pretty much guess what’s going on sometimes.”
School board candidates
The Columbia School Board candidates went next. Up first were Greg Meyer and Ted Schrader, who are running for a two-year term.
Meyer talked about his background in business and how that will help the district.
“I just think there’s a lot of things we can clean up, transparency especially,” he added. “If we’re going to restore the public’s trust in the district, we really need to be transparent. We need to have everything out in the open with very little behind closed doors.”
Schrader, who has served on the board since August, extolled the virtues of the district by listing accolades. He said the district did not need to make sweeping changes.
“Are we perfect? No. Do we continue to strive to be better? Of course,” he said. “We often talk about students at the top and students in special needs. Maybe there’s some more we can do for students in the middle that want to look at the trades.”
Next came the six candidates who are vying for three four-year terms.
Up first was incumbent Tammy Hines, who has served on the board for four years. She focused on things to improve in the district, such as spending prioritizes and special education.
“We are an intelligent community,” she said. “Working together, having those difficult conversations, making those difficult decisions publicly and overcoming issues and challenges builds a cohesive board.”
Incumbent Scott Middelkamp then spoke, focusing on many of the positive accomplishments of the district during his more than 10 years on the school board.
“I believe the district is in a good place and wholesale change is not necessary,” he said. “I will be focused on incremental improvements in infrastructure and education.”
After Middelkamp, Cress Morr talked about her qualifications, highlighting that she worked in the district for 12 years and the expertise she said that provides her.
“If elected, I plan to hire a curriculum coordinator, make sure our teachers have the classroom resources they need, including textbooks, and make technology a priority,” she said.
Following Morr, Lisa Schumacher addressed the crowd, speaking about her experience working in community organizatiosn like the Columbia Eagles Athletic Booster Club and a local Girl Scout troop.
“If elected, my goals and plans are to continue to improve our school system by providing tools, resources, technology and support for students and teachers in our district with a low tax burden,” she said.
The penultimate candidate was Tyson Search, who pointed out that he advocates for vulnerable children and families on a daily basis at his job with the Illinois Department of Children & Family Services.
“As a school board member, I want to do the same for our district by providing the necessary resources to support all of our students, teachers and administrators,” he said. “You can count on me to always be an advocate and do what is best for our kids.”
The final candidate to speak was Phil Taylor. He highlighted his 20 years of experience as a police officer and other community service like being a deacon at his church as some of his qualifications.
“I will bring a safety and security mindset to the board, along with a strong relationship with the Columbia Police Department, should that need arise,” he said. “I have trained in the halls of Columbia schools, and I know what it takes to keep them safe.”
In addition to this event, the Columbia Parent-Teacher Association and Columbia teachers union hosted a candidate forum for only the school board candidates Monday night.
At that event, candidates also had three minutes to introduce themselves and three minutes each to answer three questions.
To read more about all these candidates, get a copy of this week’s Republic-Times newspaper, which has full profiles of each individual. For a list of rack locations, click here.