City Council candidates host last forum before election day

Seven of the nine total candidates for the Jefferson City Council election on April 2 attended the downtown business association's candidate forum Thursday night. Candidates answered questions about housing and zoning codes and the Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce.
Stephi Smith/News Tribune
Seven of the nine total candidates for the Jefferson City Council election on April 2 attended the downtown business association's candidate forum Thursday night. Candidates answered questions about housing and zoning codes and the Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce. Stephi Smith/News Tribune

In the last candidate forum before election day, those vying for seats on the City Council answered voters' questions about the local chamber of commerce, housing availability and zoning codes.

Jefferson City's downtown business association, Downtown Jefferson City, hosted a candidate forum 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Jefferson City Museum of Modern Art museum.

On the April 2 ballot will be: Ward incumbent Jack Deeken and challenger Randy Hoselton, Ward 2 incumbent Mike Lester; Ward 3 candidates Amy Brix and Treaka Young, Ward 4 incumbent Randall Wright and challenger Chris Leuckel; and Ward 5 candidates Mackenzie Job and Virginia Shetler.

All but Deeken and Shetler were present for Thursday evening's forum.

Cara Stark, the association's president, hosted the forum. For all but the opening and closing question, she said not every candidate has to answer.

"If you feel like that question is meant for you, like 'yes, I've got it,' then feel free," Stark said.

During some questions, when every candidate tried to answer, she hurried to move on.

"I'm going to be mean," she joked.

Stark also took questions from the audience.

Ward 3 resident Bill Farr asked how the candidates feel about the city continuing to fund a chamber of commerce that, he said as far as he knows, hasn't brought a new business to Jefferson City in more than two decades.

The city has not provided a public contract to the chamber since 2020, according to city records.

"Spicy," Stark said, before turning the question over to candidates.

After a moment's pause, Leuckel said he'd take a shot. He said he was a former member of the chamber and has been co-chair of the chamber's golf tournament for six years. He said the city should "give some credit to folks that have invested some major time over the years."

"The chamber does lot of things ... behind the scenes ... they're not an out-front, necessarily, organization ... but they're certainly a big part of the manufacturing and redevelopment going on in Jefferson City ... I certainly don't want to be disrespectful to them," Leuckel said.

Wright pointed out the Jefferson City Regional Economic Partnership (JCREP) "grew directly out of the chamber" after the chamber decided to separate economic development from the Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce was reached at the conclusion of a study in 2020 by Market Street Services.

Wright said JCREP has been instrumental in creating new jobs for the community and pointed out the city's new contract with Unilever for chapter 100 bonds in exchange for Unilever maintaining at least 441 jobs at the site for the next 10 years.

Young said the chamber is instrumental in supporting small businesses and she'd like to see even more support from the chamber for small and local businesses. She said in walking her ward to meet residents and business owners, she's heard very positive comments about the chamber.

"I've only heard good things about them ... One thing I'd like to see is them wrap their arms around small businesses," Young said.

Lester pointed out JCREP gets funding -- a $185,00 yearly contract -- for economic development services. He said he hopes JCREP assists residents and downtown businesses with the conference center expected to go downtown in the 200 block of East Capitol Avenue.

"I think both the chamber and JCREP can and should do a better job of coming back to the council and letting us know what has been done," Lester said.

Ward 1 resident Frank Rycyk pointed out several candidates brought up the lack of affordable and available housing across Jefferson City during their opening remarks and asked if any candidates have a plan for increasing the housing supply in Jefferson City.

Hoselton said there are many vacant houses across the city and the city needs to work with the owners of such properties to motivate the owners to either prepare the property for housing, sell it to somebody else or release it to the city. He said the city needs to move out of its own way to allow growth.

"We don't want a large city with a lot of empty houses," Hoselton said.

Brix said she wants to streamline the process for building permits and expedite the construction of housing units.

Wright said the city needs to review the zoning code because there are a lot of restrictions that companies have a hard time getting around.

"Talk to any builder in our area, they'll tell you to your face they'd rather build outside of Jefferson City and not in city limits because of all the red tape," Wright said.

Leuckel said to incentivize building in a small city such as Jefferson City is a "hard nut to crack" and the city needs to find its "niche" to incentivize people to build and then, later, move here. He also said the city needs more multi-unit family housing.

Lester said he's glad residents are now recognizing the local housing crisis and that stakeholders need to come together for a plan to rebuild much of the housing lost during the tornado in 2019 – at least 150 units, according to Lester.

After this question, Lois Hogan, a real estate agent with an office in the Fourth Ward, expressed frustration with some city staff. She pointed out staff are not elected officials and that the City Council is not directly in charge of most of the things that staff handle at City Hall.

"I feel like they have their favorites and their picks that they have allowed variances and then with other people, they're just very strict. In my opinion, there's a lot that can be done to address the fact that it's their way or the highway,'" Hogan said.

Young and Hoselton both sit on the city's planning and zoning committee while Lester is the City Council's liaison.

Young said she will continue to take into consideration comments like Hogan's when she makes decision, either as a member of the City Council or the commission.

Lester said he encourages people with complaints about that to come to the City Council directly.

"I can't do anything if I don't hear specifics," Lester said.

Hoselton said the city needs to work on its "customer service" and, instead of telling residents no all the time, try to find a way to work with either Realtors or construction companies.

He also pointed out that city staff does sometimes change city code they believe to be unnecessary. He pointed out the planning and zoning commission recently amended the city code by decreasing the required setback and turning radius for drive-thrus.

"So credit where credit is due but we do need to be better," Hoselton said.

Wright said, as a fellow Realtor, he's ran into those problems himself. He told a quick story from several years ago when he bought a house to sell and wanted to add a small unit in a long strip of land between two homes and was shut down by city staff.

"We need to look at other options," Wright said.

Job said she had one immediate suggestion she gleaned from the Capital City Housing Task Force's conference last week: adjust the code so variances apply to a neighborhood rather than individual lots so applicants for variances don't have to go to the city for each individual property parcel.

Council members serve a two-year term with a limit of four terms, eight years total. Council members earn approximately $450 a month.

Polls will open 6 a.m. April 2 and close at 7 p.m. Voters can visit the Cole County website for voting locations and the Jefferson City website for a map of the city's five wards.

photo Seven of the nine total candidates for the Jefferson City Council election on April 2 attended the downtown business association's candidate forum Thursday night. Candidates answered questions about housing and zoning codes and the Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce. Stephi Smith/News Tribune
photo Seven of the nine total candidates for the Jefferson City Council election on April 2 attended the downtown business association's candidate forum Thursday night. Candidates answered questions about housing and zoning codes and the Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce. Stephi Smith/News Tribune

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