After talking with potential voters, creating more and better jobs and improving infrastructure were identified as key issues brought before the handful of candidates seeking two Jefferson City Council seats on the April 4 ballot.
In Ward 1, incumbent Jim Branch is being challenged by Dave Kemna.
In Ward 4, three candidates — Ron Fitzwater, Charles Jackson and Leonard Steinman — are seeking the one-year Council term vacated when Councilman Glen Costales unexpectedly announced his resignation last fall due to a health issue of a family member.
Jobs is a topic each of the candidates said they are hearing as they door knock, hand shake and politic in the coffee shops and taverns, at prep basketball games and wrestling matches, and on job sites and in offices around the Capital City.
When it comes to comments about infrastructure improvements, meaning repairs to the aging and overmatched stormwater system, some of the comments have been heated, given the devastation of the flash floods of August and September last year.
Council positions are considered part-time jobs and pay $400 a month.
Incumbent Jim Branch, who worked in sales for Riley Chevrolet for more than two decades and now is a marketing representative for the local Knapheide truck dealership, is a lifetime resident of the ward. He said he would not advocate any major changes in either the 1st Ward or the city as a whole. "I wouldn't be for any wholesale changes, not now. I'm more of a live and let live sort of guy," Branch said.
Based on his experience as one of the ward's councilmen the past four years, he does believe city regulations and regulators should be less restrictive in dealing with small-business owners and homeowners interested in do-it-yourself projects.
He cited the example of a downtown business owner who has been thwarted by regulations for several years in his attempt to remodel the second floor of his business for living accommodations. That shouldn't happen, Branch said.
"Most of the time, our regulations don't add anything to the bottom line. Some of the hoops they (city inspectors) make you jump through are not going to make the project better or safer," Branch said.
Challenger Dave Kemna, an assistant manager and relationship banking specialist at Central Bank's main branch, is a lifelong resident of Jefferson City and the 1st Ward. He previously worked as a civics teacher and coach at Helias High School, and he worked at the YMCA before launching the teaching and coaching element of his professional career.
Kemna said he would change the economic status in the 1st Ward if he could. "I'll certainly focus on the economy if elected. The 1st Ward is a quiet place to live, but I'd like to see it offer more jobs for people. I would do all I could to see the economy take off in the 1st Ward."
His goal as the ward's new councilman would be to "make sure I am personable, accessible and approachable by everyone who lives there. I'd reach out to the people who live there and wouldn't wait for them to do the reaching.
"I've used this before, but I've learned that people don't care how much you know until they know how much you care for them," Kemna said, paraphrasing a famous quote from President Theodore Roosevelt.
Ron Fitzwater was the first to announce his intention to run for the seat. He already is a familiar face around City Hall. He is a member of the Transportation and Traffic Commission and an alternate to the Planning and Zoning Commission. He frequently attended City Council meetings before Costales' resignation. The chief executive officer of the Missouri Pharmacy Association, Fitzwater works in downtown Jefferson City and is a regular visitor at the Capitol on behalf of his employer.
He also is active in the United Way, Concord Baptist Church and the Jefferson City Rotary Club.
Fitzwater said his passion is to see the decommissioned Missouri State Pentitentiary changed into a veritable economic engine. "It's come a long way, but that 40 acres of prime land holds a huge potential for our city. We've experienced some major breakthroughs there in recent years, thanks to the work of Mayor (Carrie) Tergin and Diane Gillespie (executive director of the Convention and Visitors Bureau).
"My goal on the Council would be to work to keep all of our good things moving in the right direction. The list is long, but we need to be sure we do everything we can to bring more jobs into Jeff City, and that includes the 4th Ward."
Charles Jackson is the founding pastor at the Guiding Light Missionary Baptist Church of Christ in Fulton, but has lived in the 4th Ward for more than a decade. He uses the motto "leading souls to Christ since 1996" in his church work, which has been avocational for more than two decades.
His professional career, however, has been in law enforcement. He is a retired Missouri Highway Patrol officer and served a term as Missouri's director of public safety.
Because of long-time relationships with Callaway County law enforcement leaders, Jackson has served as a reserve deputy there for many years.
He said he's traversed a path of patience and careful analysis throughout his life and would not engage in the pursuit of any quick changes in the 4th Ward of city government if elected. He said he's well aware of the stormwater crisis in the city as well as issues like the East Capitol Avenue Urban Renewal. He believes the best solution to these problems, and others, is proceeding cautiously but staying focused on protecting the residents' homes and livelihoods while looking to improving their futures.
"I will let the people know I will do my best to represent them, and the test lies with them," Jackson said. "If it's God's will, it will be. If not, I will continue to make a difference where I can."
If elected, he added, he would strive to expand the Jefferson City Police Department, if possible, given budget restraints. "You never have enough police," he said. "It is impossible to patrol and prevent with the numbers we have; most of what our police do is reactive."
Leonard Steinman is a lifetime businessman, notably in trucking. He is known for his brightly colored trucks with signage promoting himself and his causes. He has been a candidate for public office in many previous elections.
If he could, Steinman said, he would eliminate the Jefferson City Charter, which was passed by city voters in 1986. Steinman said he doesn't believe the charter works, and it is ineffective in improving city government much less as a guide of how the Council should act.
Steinman did not explain what he would use to guide city business if the charter form of government was abolished in Jefferson City.
Asked what his one over-arching goal would be if he is elected to the Council, Steinman said he would "get rid of the police union and right after it get rid of the firemen's union. All they do is grab more money for the firemen and policemen. We don't need them," he said, referring to the unions.
Council, school board forums on tap
The News Tribune will be hosting public forums on Jefferson City school and city races on the April 4 ballot.
On March 7, the two high school plan and operating levy issues for the Jefferson City School District will be the topic for the first half of the forum; the second half of the forum that night will be devoted to the seven candidates seeking three positions on the school board.
On March 21, City Council candidates for the 1st and 4th wards will be asked questions.
Both forums will begin at 6 p.m. and will be held in the Council chambers at City Hall.