Isgett best choice among four solid candidates

March 28, 2012 

VOTERS IN Columbia City Council District 3 are fortunate to have a slate of four solid candidates seeking to replace outgoing — and hard-working — Councilwoman Belinda Gergel.

Moe Baddourah impressed us with his intriguing proposal to extend Columbia’s utility franchise fee countywide to fund the bus system instead of adding to the already-too-high sales tax. Ultimately, though, we fear that he would become too concerned about district needs at the expense of more important citywide issues.

We have the same concern about Daniel Coble, who makes it clear that constituent service and loyalty to his district would be paramount. Mr. Coble has as good a grasp of city issues and how government works as anyone in any of the council races, but we also worry about his strong support for tax increment financing districts, which siphon new tax dollars away from basic services, to fund improvements in targeted areas.

Jennifer Isgett and Michael Miller stand out in this impressive field. They share similar concerns about bolstering public safety, managing the city’s finances, funding the public bus system and allowing a strong mayor to run day-to-day operations.

Moreover, both have a firm grasp of the appropriate role of a council member: While they would attend to the district, they understand that the needs of the overall city take precedence. As Mr. Miller explains: “The city’s got to prosper for District 3 to prosper.”

Mr. Miller, who has served on city and community boards, would bring a thoughtful, practical approach to governing, promoting inclusiveness and public input to help solve problems. He says that being semi-retired gives him the time to serve.

He has the perfect take on strong mayor: While he recognizes the concern that a bad candidate could be elected, he points out that voters can oust that person at the end of his tenure. “That’s how democracy is supposed to work,” he said.

But while Mr. Miller asks important questions about city obligations and whether the city is in a position to use tax increment financing, he is somewhat vague on exactly how he would approach difficult spending decisions. It isn’t enough to say no one knows how much something will cost and leave it to chance to determine the outcome, as Mr. Miller did more than once when he met with us.

Ms. Isgett isn’t a perfect candidate either, but we give her a slight edge over Mr. Miller.

We were particularly impressed by her enthusiasm about the city’s potential, her commitment to becoming its biggest marketing agent and her natural inclination to work with Richland County and other governments to seek regional solutions to our mutual problems.

Our one concern involves her desire to eliminate the city’s business license tax. Her promise to make up the resulting revenue shortfall by trimming around the edges and somehow finding money to make up the difference is at best ill-informed. The shortfall would be immense, and it would be irresponsible to cut a critical revenue stream without a firm plan for how to deal with it.

But Ms. Isgett is unequivocal in her opposition to TIFs, and explains the problems with them better than any of the other candidates. And she is definitive in arguing that if a sales tax is to be on the November ballot, it should be only half a penny, and all the money should go to the buses.

On a council that historically spends now and balances the books later, Ms. Isgett would provide much needed balance. She should be elected.

•  Columbia Councilman Brian DeQuincey Newman has served well as the District 2 representative since winning a special election two years ago to fill the seat vacated by former Councilman E.W. Cromartie. We see no reason Mr. Newman should not be re-elected over perennial candidate Nammu Muhammad.

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