Special election for Fifth Ward City Council seat to take place Feb. 5

Former councilwoman Helen Anthony vacated the position Nov. 30.
Mayor Bob McDavid listens as a Columbia resident pleads the City Council members to save the Niedermeyer building at the Jan. 22 meeting. Three candidates are currently vying for the open Fifth Ward spot on City Council.

With a special election coming up Feb. 5, three candidates have been campaigning across Columbia for the open Fifth Ward seat on the Columbia City Council.

Former councilwoman Helen Anthony vacated the seat in Nov. 30 of last year so she could be closer to family in Providence, R.I.

The candidates include Tootie Burns, secretary for the Grasslands Neighborhood Association; Mark Jones, a political director for the Missouri National Education Association; and former Fifth Ward Councilwoman Laura Nauser.

Tootie Burns

Burns, who gained the endorsement of Anthony, said she wants to represent the voice of the neighborhoods if elected to the Fifth Ward seat on City Council.

"The Fifth Ward is made up of a lot of neighborhoods and they are all different and unique," Burns said. "I've knocked on over 1,000 doors and I've heard the issues that people are concerned with."

Key concerns for Fifth Ward include traffic, street issues and the electric transmission line, Burns said.

"The electronic transmission lines are probably the biggest issues right now," Burns said. "I want a solution that impacts as few residential properties as possible."

As development downtown continues, the council needs to take another look at student housing downtown, Burns said.

"I hate to lose historic buildings, but at the same time we have to be respectful to property owners," Burns said. "We need to take another look at student housing downtown and how it fits with the current downtown."

In regard to expansion of the Columbia Regional Airport, Burns's approach would include a 1 percent increase to the city's 4 percent bed tax. Bed tax is applied to hotel rooms in the city. The city should also collaborate with surrounding towns who will also benefit from the airport, Burns said.

"The increase in bed tax would partially fund the improvement," Burns said. "I'd be in favor of forming an airport authority where surrounding communities share the cost for the improvement of airport facilities."

There is also room for improvement in public transportation issues, Burns said.

"I think we need to find a way that riding public transportation become the norm and not the exception," Burns said.

Consistent with her neighborhood-based approach, Burns said email lists and neighborhood watch programs could be useful in helping to fight crime in the city.

"I'm a big believer in neighborhoods being involved with safety along with the police force," Burns said. "That way, neighborhood associations could advocate for themselves."

Mark Jones

Jones's focus during his campaign has been taking more proactive approaches on city issues.

"A lot of what we have right now on City Council is a lot of just planning by crises," Jones said. "It seems that about once a month something comes up that people aren't prepared for. We need to start being more proactive on how we approach these issues."

As development continues downtown, Jones said City Council needs to form a plan ahead of time.

"We need to look forward and start addressing the problem proactively rather than reactively," Jones said. "The current model right now, basically a developer announces they want to do something and then there is a reaction."

Jones suggests bringing stakeholders together downtown, such as representatives of MU and its students, developers and historic preservation representatives. The city needs to start inventorying historic properties downtown and seeing how to handle them, Jones said.

"We need to examine which owners are interested in how to improve and preserve their property and which owners are selling, so if others want to take on that property they can," Jones said.

With the university attracting more out-of-state students, improving the capabilities of the airport is crucial, Jones said. He said airport improvements would also improve business for the city by possibly attracting more companies.

"The airport is how we can welcome the rest of the world," Jones said. "Having a quality airport is a tiebreaker for a lot of companies considering relocating to Columbia."

Jones said his plan for airport expansion would include the sale of bonds to spread the cost out over time and cost the tax payers the least amount of money.

In regards to the electric transmissions lines, Jones also seeks a plan that would affect the least amount of residential properties as possible.

The city also needs a way to make public transportation more efficient, he said.

"There is a need for a public transit system," Jones said. "We just need to find the one that works for us. We need to not only engage the student population but also the city's workers."

Laura Nauser

Serving on the seat from 2005 to 2011, Nauser has two Fifth Ward council terms under her belt.

Nauser also served two years as mayor pro tem and later ran as a Republican against state Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, for a position in the state House but was unsuccessful.

Nauser is president of Boone County Federated Republican Women and is on the Board of Directors of the Boys and Girls Club of Columbia.

The Columbia Chamber of Commerce gave Nauser its endorsement.

At a Jan. 4 forum for candidates, Nauser said she believes City Council needs to plan ahead for downtown development.

As far as downtown development, Nauser said the policies need to address adequate parking downtown.

"I don't think it's good legislative process," Nauser said at the forum.

City Council should look to other communities to see if they can contribute to funding for airport expansion, she said.

In regard to public transportation, FastCAT will most likely never reach a point where it will be able to completely fund itself, Nauser said at a forum at the Boone County Pachyderm Club on Jan. 11.

"I don't think it's going to be one of those things that's ever going to be totally self-sufficient because we can't charge the fares that are going to be adequate to support it," Nauser said.

Nauser was not available for a direct interview.

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