Last winter, City Manager Mike Matthes conducted a study of Columbia to gauge how the city could improve. To his dismay, he said he discovered that not all of its citizens thrive.
According to his research, Columbia’s white unemployment rate shrank from 5.3 to 4.4 percent between 2009 and 2013, but the black unemployment rate grew from 14.1 to 15.7 percent in the same time period. Additionally, black households make only 60 percent of white households’ income.
In response, Matthes created a three-year strategic plan to combat poverty and improve quality of life in the city. He presented the plan to a public forum Sept. 4, 2015 at City Hall.
“We want to make Columbia a city where people from all walks of life have a fair shot at success and prosperity,” Matthes said at the forum. “To me, social equity means correcting the imbalances that keep people from breaking out of the cycle of poverty.”
The plan’s five objectives are to bolster the economy, social equity, public safety, infrastructure and operational excellence.
Matthes announced Thursday that adjunct journalism professor Carl Kenney, Columbia Public Schools Board President James Whitt and former Imani Mission Center co-founders Glenn Cobbins Sr. and Judy Hubbard will work with three low-to-moderate income neighborhoods the city aims to improve.
Matthes said Kenney, Cobbins, Hubbard and Whitt “possess the talent the city was missing.”
However, some Columbians are skeptical. The activist group Race Matters, Friends requested the city provide records explaining the four partners’ qualifications, resumes and details of their future services.
Traci Wilson-Kleekamp, a cosigner of the request, told the Missourian in an email that the group does not know “their track record of success,” and that Matthes’ confidence in their ability does not guarantee that they are qualified. She released the records request to the public Wednesday via Twitter.
One of the plan’s goals is to train all city employees in household budgeting. This would aim to cut the median wage gap by 5 percent between white and minority households, a goal Kenney said he takes seriously.
“The real emphasis of this project (is) to create opportunities for those who need it,” Kenney told the Missourian. “We have a horrific disparity between people based on race. That has to be the focus."
The labor market is troubled as well, the study found. Half of the city’s manufacturing jobs have been replaced by retail, and the disparity between skills employers demand and skills workers have has been increasing.
To cut the skills gap by 10 percent, the city will partner with programs like Job Point and C.A.R.E. to enlarge the trained workforce, the plan states. The city also plans to create more jobs and attract businesses that pay living wages. Whitt said he will help disadvantaged businesses, such as those owned by women and minorities, to compete for government opportunities and contracts.
The plan states that the city will evaluate internal practices and policies to look for evidence of systemic biases, including racism. To eliminate them, it will propose new policies that treat everyone equally, and employees will undergo inclusion and diversity training. Cobbins and Hubbard’s main goal is to build community trust in the plan.
The plan seeks to increase natural areas, complete street systems and improve accessibility to public transit. To improve public safety, the city will increase fire department coverage area and the quality of the police force. The plan also aims to build new homes and reduce excessive energy consumption.
“We will continue to provide a high level of service to our citizens just as before, and, working with partners, we’ll endeavor to lighten the burden of poverty,” Matthes said.
Edited by Hailey Stolze | email@example.com