Downtown issues drive council candidate forum

Laura Ward, left, and Carolyn McDowell both said city staff need more power to fight abandoned properties.

The two candidates for a vacant city council seat both said they wanted to improve city services in the downtown area.

During a Monday night question-and-answer session, Carolyn McDowell and Laura Ward both said they wanted to give city staff more resources to combat abandoned properties in that part of town. McDowell said she wanted to increase the amount set aside for code enforcement each year, while Ward decried the fact that 21 of the city's roughly 97 properties are owned by one person.

McDowell and Ward are vying to fill the Second Ward seat vacated by Shawn Schulte, who had to step down this spring after moving to a new house in a different ward. McDowell served on the council for a total of 10 years during the 1970s and 1990s and has also served on the city charter commission. Ward served for six years on the school board for St. Peter Interparish School.

McDowell said education and employment are key to the city's future, particularly in the downtown area, which Ward 2 encompasses. She said one option might be creating a trade development program run by the city, something she said other towns across the country have done. She said putting a conference center in the downtown area would be a good idea and recommended Jefferson City residents be given a bigger role in determining how the facility takes shape.

Ward said improving public transit would be a top priority for her. She praised the use of advertising on Columbia's bus system and suggested Jefferson City implement a similar program. In addition, she said the city should expand its recycling program and work more closely with state and federal officials on issues ranging from grants to the use of property within the city. Ward said the city needed a master plan for the Missouri State Penitentiary and suggested the site be used for a conference center or something related to schools.

Both candidates counted supporters among those attending the forum. Ken Wildhaber, himself a former councilman, said he perferred McDowell because of her prior experience. He said Schulte's replacement would only have a year before the seat comes up in the election cycle, so the council should pick someone who can hit the ground running. Jenny Smith said she was heartened by Ward's position on abandoned properties and expanding the recycling program.

Under the Jefferson City charter, if a city council seat becomes vacant, the remaining council members vote on who fills the seat. City Administrator Steve Crowell said the council will decide at its July 7 meeting. Whoever the council chooses will fill out the rest of Schulte's unfinished two-year term.