Missourian Voters Guide: April 5 Municipal Election
Columbia voters go to the polls Tuesday in a season of change, charged with electing a new mayor and at least one new member to both City Council and School Board.
Brian Treece's decision not to seek re-election as mayor after serving two terms pushed this year's election into a special category. Five candidates announced for the position, with one, Maria Oropallo, withdrawing from the race on March 12.
Voters will choose a mayor from Barbara Buffaloe, former city sustainability manager; Randy Minchew, local businessman and previous candidate for council, David Seamon, a Columbia School Board member who would be the city's first Black mayor, and Tanya Heath, who operates a health and wellness business.
The election to the three-year term is determined by who gets the most votes; there is no runoff. That process prompted some public school employees to write Buffaloe, Seamon and Heath recently urging two of them to step down out of fear that the three progressive candidates would split votes and hand the seat to Minchew, a conservative.
Voters in the Fourth Ward will be electing a new council member, as current officeholder Ian Thomas is not seeking re-election. The candidates are Nick Foster, a retired former executive with the nonprofit Voluntary Action Center, and Erica Pefferman, who owns a local media company.
Third Ward Council member Karl Skala is seeking election to a fifth term and is opposed by community activist Roy Lovelady.
For the Columbia School Board, four candidates are seeking two available seats for three-year terms. Voters will select two new board members from Adam Burks, safety facilities manager at Midway USA; Andrea Lisenby, parent of three school age children; Suzette Waters, a registered dental hygienist and school volunteer; and incumbent Blake Willoughby, an educational researcher.
There are two ballot measures Columbia voters are being asked to approve:
- An $80 million school bond issue for Columbia Public Schools to be used for construction of two elementary schools, infrastructure improvements and renovations at the Columbia Area Career Center, among other projects.
- A proposition for a new use tax on online purchases that is projected to provide an additional $5.6 million to the general fund. The tax has the effect of applying the local sales tax on online purchases.
Barbara Buffaloe moved to Columbia to attend MU in the 1990s and has lived here since. At MU she studied environmental design and earned her master’s in environment behavior. She spent the last 11 years as the city’s first sustainability manager.
The Office of Sustainability was implemented in 2010 to promote economic and environmental causes while ensuring that the city’s resources are used efficiently.
Buffaloe has focused her campaign on sustainability and environmental causes. She also has stressed making changes to the city’s trash pickup program and making improvements to city infrastructure.
KBIA's Rachel Schnelle spoke to Mayoral Candidate Barbara Buffaloe.
Tanya Heath is a wellness business owner and an adjunct professor at MU. She is involved with the local 4-H chapter and a member of the Community United Methodist Church.
Her platform is focused on collaboratively solving issues. Heath said she believes that her experience in the wellness industry will allow her to make improvements to Columbia’s health system.
She has pointed to issues with the city’s trash pickup and snow plowing processes and wants to work with the community to find better solutions.
She has cited her experience in the advertising and wellness industries as strengths that will make her a better mayor.
KBIA's Ryan Famuliner spoke to Mayoral Candidate Tanya Heath.
Randy Minchew has been working in small businesses for the past 43 years and is vice president of business development at Deline Holdings.
Minchew has been open about his struggles with addiction and physical abuse in his youth, and he has dedicated time to working within the recovery community.
He serves on several nonprofit boards, including Phoenix Programs and Grade A Plus. Minchew has focused on building a safer Columbia by hiring more police officers, improving policing practices and working to drive down rising crime rates.
He said he wants to make Columbia more affordable and that his experience in the private sector provided him with skills to do so.
KBIA's Peter Kamp spoke with Mayoral Candidate Randy Minchew.
David Seamon, a Columbia Board of Education member and former Marine, emphasizes addressing inequities in Columbia and making the city a better place for everyone.
He has called for changes to community policing practices to ensure that everyone feels safe.
He supports the opening of additional shelters and warming centers to provide aid to the homeless community.
He said his time on the School Board has given him experience that will help him as mayor attack the issues the community faces head on. Seamon has said that if elected he will resign from the school board.
KBIA's Xcaret Nuñez spoke with Mayoral Candidate David Seamon.
City Council Third Ward candidates
Roy Lovelady, a community activist, has owned and operated 360 Star Styling Studio, a barber shop on Business Loop 70, for 17 years. He has touted that experience when expressing his commitment to building up small businesses in Columbia. He also is the founder of the activist group Peoples Defense, which grew out of Columbia protests over the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in 2020. The organization works to correct injustices in the community. Lovelady has used a grassroots approach to his activism, working to make sure that the people’s voices are heard. He also has called for more community outreach from city government.
Karl Skala, an incumbent who has been on the city council since 2013, is running for re-election. If re-elected, Skala would be the longest serving member of the council. He has touted that experience on the campaign trail pointing to his time on both city council and the city's Planning and Zoning Commission. Skala joined the commission in 1999 and developed an interest in local government. He won a council seat in 2007, but lost a re-election bid in 2010. He has stated his support for improving infrastructure, taking a more holistic approach to public safety and using zoning to improve the availability of affordable housing.
City Council Fourth Ward candidates
Nick Foster has extensive experience working with nonprofits, both in Columbia and in other cities. He retired last year after serving as executive director of the Voluntary Action Center for nine years. The VAC works in Columbia to fill needs for low-income families in health, employment, education and housing. Foster has more than 20 years of nonprofit experience in Alabama and Indiana which he says gives him leadership experience that will serve him well if elected mayor. Foster has said he would like to focus on issues of public safety and health, as well as homelessness with an emphasis on making sure everyone in the community has an opportunity to thrive.
Erica Pefferman, a Columbia businesswoman and mother of five, moved to Columbia in 2005 and has involved herself in the community since. She is the owner of both COMO Magazine and Columbia Marketing group, which works with local businesses. She is involved in a number of community organizations including Job Point, CrimeStoppers, and the Alzheimer’s Association Greater Missouri Chapter. She is active in the Columbia Chamber of Commerce. She has focused her platform on developing affordable housing in Columbia, workforce development programs and public safety.
There are several key issues that candidates have discussed in forums and through their campaigns. Here is a recap of the issues and how candidates have said they will approach them.
Columbia School Board
Suzette Waters has long been a volunteer presence in her children's schools and wants to expand her impact by serving on the Columbia School Board. Her focus is on supporting public schools generally and the district specifically. One way she wants to push for school success is increasing class options for middle school students who need more rigor. She thinks if students can take more challenging courses in middle school, they will be better prepared for high school classes. Because of turnover at all district levels, Waters thinks it’s more important than ever that board members act as direct liaisons between the community and the district. Waters, 48, and her husband, Andy Waters, have a son in public high school and a daughter in college.
Despite having to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic for most of his first term, Blake Willoughby, 28, is even more motivated to serve the community and see the Columbia School Board through to the end of the crisis. He wants to help the district and the community heal after the pandemic. Willoughby is proud of supporting the school bond issue, which, if approved, would be used to build two elementary schools, renovate and add to the Columbia Area Career Center and add to Battle Elementary School among other projects. He sees these as lasting gifts to the community. If reelected, he wants to continue pushing for The Americans with Disabilities Act excellence for district buildings, equitable school environments and addressing learning loss caused by the pandemic.
Andrea Lisenby is confident her active approach to building relationships would translate well to service on the Columbia School Board. She’s involved in parent-teacher associations and has heard concerns from teachers and parents — experiences she said would help her serve students. Lisenby supported mask-less learning and said masks have widened the gap for struggling students. She also said what's best for students, not her opinion, would be key in her responsibility on the board. She said smaller class sizes, more teacher aides and longer lesson times for core subjects are possible ways to help make up pandemic learning loss. Lisenby, 41, and her husband, Kyle Lisenby, have three children: two in public schools and one in a private school because he needed a mask-less environment.
Two experiences helped galvanize Adam Burks into running for Columbia School Board: The first was seeing one child's learning loss during the COVID-19 pandemic; and the second was securing a 504 education plan for an older child who uses a wheelchair. The frustrating 504 process made Burks concerned for other families that may have less time and fewer resources than he does. Burks’ mission is to prioritize academics and students’ needs. He thinks the district is failing when it comes to the quality of education students receive. He thinks board members should be present in the community and the schools, talking with parents and other citizens and “being the PR person.” He and his wife, Melody Burks, have four children, all in public schools.
School Board issues
The Missourian asked school board candidates to weigh in on several issues for the school district. Here are their responses:
Proposition 1 ballot measure
Proposition 1, referred to as the Wayfair Tax, would apply the local sales tax to online sales by out of state vendors. Currently such online purchases are not taxed. If passed, the tax would go into effect Jan. 1, 2023. More details are available here.