For many residents in Jefferson City, Thursday night was the first, and possibly the last, time they will get a chance find out where the candidates stand on some of the most pressing issues facing their community.
Candidates for the Jefferson City Council, the Jefferson City School Board and representatives both for and against Proposition A had a chance to address residents on a variety of
topics in an effort to win their votes in the April 5 election.
School board races
Even in a race like the school board, where the candidates do not have the constraints of concerns from specific wards, a variety of issues received attention.
Current interim board member Marie Peoples said a board member needs to pay attention to the social issues, like poverty, violence, homelessness and substance abuse that spill over into the classroom, and give the support to district employees who have to deal with these issues.
"While schools may not be the traditional setting in which these challenges are addressed, the fact is teachers and administrators interact with students who have unstable home lives on a daily basis," Peoples said.
Tammy Turner wants the board to be more open to alternative ideas on how best to educate students - an issue she has championed on a committee level and will continue to do if she is elected.
"We are looking at options, ways that we can benefit our students, and the best ways to help them graduate," she said. "Does this community need a second high school? Is that the answer? That is one of the options we are looking at."
John Ruth, coming from a business background, highlighted the fact that one of the reasons the district has been successful is because of its financial stability, and he vowed to continue that trend.
"I'm not sure if we do a good enough job branding just how fortunate we are in our community," Ruth said. "(The company I work for), Wallstreet (Insurance Group) and our benefits department works with about 60 schools in state. They come to us every year and tell us, "Guys, we are broke.' That is something we are not saying in Jefferson City and something we are very fortunate not to have to say. That is something that did not happen by accident."
The final school board candidate, Larry Henry Jr., was unable to attend the forum. Because of that, he was only given the opportunity to have a representative, Earnest Wilson, read a prepared statement that outlined his qualifications.
Both candidates in the municipal judge race agreed it is hard to identify issues for a constituency, since that can be anyone who comes before their bench. However, the two found one point on which they diverged.
Cotton Walker emphasized taking a tougher stance on collection of fines from offenders.
"Court fines and costs collected have dropped in this court almost $200,000 annually since 2007," Walker said. "That trend has to stop. That is nearly $200,000 of lost revenue to our general operating funds. That is $200,000 of lost revenue for our city services, such as the fire department and law enforcement."
Incumbent Judge Marshall Wilson said that while a person wants someone who is fair when they have to go before the court, they also want someone who will be tough on offenders.
"They want to see somebody who is not a rubber stamp for the police department," Wilson said. "Sometimes the city fails to make a case against the defendant. It doesn't mean that the officer is lying or trying to frame the person. And those people will not be found guilty."
On the other side of the bench, the candidates for city prosecutor pushed for a similar "tough but fair" approach on prosecuting offenders who come before the court.
Renee Godbee said she intends to make use of the new county jail and its expanded space, when appropriate, to help find that balance.
"The jail is a cost-effective way for punishment," she said. "Because of the new jail and the city granting land for that jail, we are able to have 20 spots.
"This will enable more crimes that happen in our city that require jail time to be brought back to the city. This will bring more revenue back to the city."
Her opponent, Brian Stumpe, said that to address the needs of the community, there needs to be more emphasis on the smaller infractions in order to avoid more serious crimes.
"It's very important the city prosecutor understands that and can work with that," Stumpe said. "I think, once a month, you need to sit down with officers, with code enforcement officials, the dog catcher and community leaders, and have waffles and coffee. As I talk with people on Marshall Street, their concerns are different than the people's concerns on Maywood."
When Mayor John Landwehr spoke in opposition to Proposition A, which would eliminate the requirement that trash be collected only by an authorized collector, he did not mince words when he stated what he thinks will happen if the proposition is passed.
"When the contract is removed, we (the city) will be sued, because it is a contract," Landwehr said. "It will expose the citizens and the taxpayers of this city to significant liability."
Matthew Luadzers, who spoke on behalf of the Citizens Action Committee Against Ordinance 14487, worked during his presentation to make sure voters knew from where the group's argument stemmed.
"This committee honestly disagrees with the ordinance because of its principles," Luadzers said. "Some of us, like myself, use the service, while others, like our chairman (Arthur Brown), do not. Whether we like or use the service is of no merit to our position."
When it came to the council races, one major theme echoed among the candidates. All agreed that the revitalization of the older parts of town are necessary to the future success of Jefferson City.
Some, like 1st Ward candidate Tyler Woods, said that needs to be achieved through focusing on the Missouri State Penitentiary site, while his opponent Bob Webber emphasized a continued and strengthened relationship with the Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce.
Third Ward Councilman Dr. Bryan Pope pushed to keep the council thrifty, making sure the projects the council approves match what residents want. Ken Hussey said that while the ideas that are coming from groups like the Ad Hoc Committee on the Revitalization of Old Town and the chamber's economic development plan have significant potential, the council needs to work in the coming months to correctly prioritize those opportunities to maximize their effects.
In the fourth Ward, Carlos Graham cited the potential zoning challenges with a site like the new St. Mary's Hospital as needing significant council attention. Bill Luebbert said that, as a council member, he would work to maximize projects like the upcoming city half-cent sales tax to best serve Jefferson City and its residents.
Ralph Bray, a candidate in the 5th Ward, focused much of his time pushing for infrastructure improvements with programs like sidewalks, street overlay and wastewater. Scott Stacey talked about the need to take a project like the proposed conference center, and solidify the plan for it so that the city can benefit from it.