City council candidates offered their two cents on several issues Tuesday night as part of a forum hosted by the American Legion Post 5.
As part of the forum, members of the audience were able to ask the candidates questions which touched on Lincoln University's enrollment and an expansion to the veterans cemetery.
Ward 4 candidates Ryan Estes and Leonard Steinman were not in attendance. Steinman originally agreed to participate, but organizers said he had an emergency come up.
This was the first time the American Legion has hosted a forum in Jefferson City. Commander Gary Kempker said it's part of trying to make the American Legion more of a community asset.
"There are issues that are sensitive to veterans, certainly, but we wanted it to be a non-partisan, non-bias program without an agenda, which was well attended," he said. "So we're very pleased that it came off and that it did what we intended to get done."
Lincoln University enrollment
One of the questions posed to the candidates focused around how the city could help enrollment efforts at Lincoln University after it saw a 41 percent decline in the last nine years.
Candidates largely focused on communication between Lincoln and city officials and encouraging businesses to utilize Lincoln students.
Ward 5 candidate Mark Schreiber said part of the issue goes back to the recruitment efforts, such as LU's need to represent at local college and career fairs.
"You see other colleges around the state, but you don't see anybody representing Lincoln University. That bothers me," he said. "There's a two-way street there. I'd like to see monthly meetings with Lincoln University staff and the city council so that we can work together."
His opponent, Alicia Edwards, said the first step is to look back at the history of Lincoln to see where connections have been lost so they can be healed. She also emphasized the need to connect with local businesses for internships and job opportunities after the students graduate.
"They go get their education and there's nothing here to do. It's hard to get into the job pool here," she said. "Everything is very cliquey in Jefferson City, you've got to know somebody to get ahead. So, we need to break down those barriers so that we can have that open line of communication."
Ward 4 candidate Derrick Spicer said the relationship between the city and Lincoln University is getting better. Specifically, he called out Athletic Director John Moseley.
"Before John was here, nobody supported Lincoln," he said. "I think that he has brought that community together, and I think he has brought more to Lincoln."
Ward 3 candidate Mary Schantz said she thinks Lincoln's police academy is a good start to seeing things improve. She also supported a better relationship between the city and university along with the Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce and the Division of Business.
"One of the things we need to talk about is good paying jobs and workforce development so that people can rise up out of poverty," she said. "One of the things we might look at are some of the ways that we can be part of that."
Her opponent, Scott Spencer, also echoed the need to better communication with multiple organizations within Jefferson City including Lincoln and city representatives.
"I think our community would be astounded with the people that have connections to Lincoln: business leaders, nonprofit directors," he said. "We have to do something to secure it. I don't know what that is. But I think we have to have better communication with multiple players. It just can't be just city council approaching that conversation with LU."
Ward 2 candidate Edith Vogel took a different approach to the conversation and mentioned working with local school districts to encourage students to attend Lincoln.
"As I remember correctly, Lincoln has always been a feeder school from the local areas and then Lincoln University's established leadership would reach out to the students out of state," she said. "I don't have an answer as to why the feeder school districts around Lincoln University (aren't pushing it more)."
Her opponent, Laura Ward, said Lincoln's liaison that gives an update at city council meetings is a good start, but there needs to be more communication, and the community needs to step up to give the students opportunities.
"Connecting with students, I think, is vitally important so they know we care," she said. "I think we touched upon a great idea with getting business in our community together to work with some kind of programs. I think that's a good idea, but it's going to take a lot of different people from both sides, all areas, to work on that."
An expansion of the Jefferson City National Cemetery for veterans has been a conversation for several years with East Miller Park considered as a potential location.
The Parks and Recreation Commission approved the transfer of the land making up East Miller Park in February 2020 to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for that expansion. However, it never went before the full council and has not been transferred at this point.
While all the candidates supported an expansion to the cemetery, several voiced concern about that location for it.
Schantz said if it came before the city council she would want to hear everybody's opinions on the matter. She also has questions about whether the 2-acre space would be too small and what the children in that neighborhood would do without the park.
Schreiber, who said he's been involved in these conversations, said it became a more complex issue as those went on. His goal, he said, is to find a respectful and serene setting for the cemetery expansion and he isn't confident the park is it.
Spicer said he supports the effort and it needs to get done.
Vogel said she would support anything the veterans want, but would like to see the expansion be in a larger location.
Edwards said she supports the expansion but not in that location. It deserves more land, she argued, and the people living in that community deserve their park.
Spencer said he's in full support of the project. Veterans don't ask for much, he argued, and if they feel this is needed then he would support it.
In their closing remarks, all candidates encouraged citizens to get out and vote Tuesday.