State of the City: Mayor Benjamin wants to build ‘city of ideas’

cleblanc@thestate.comJanuary 20, 2014 

  • IF YOU GO

    What: Mayor’s annual State of the City address

    When: 6 tonight

    Where: Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center

As Mayor Steve Benjamin launches his second term, he will seek to shift Columbia’s motto to “a city of ideas.”

That will be his theme Tuesday evening, Benjamin said, when he delivers his fifth State of the City address at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center.

Benjamin spent most of his first four years in office pushing for Columbia to become “a world-class city.”

The ideas Benjamin will offer Tuesday will include:

• Hire more police officers and firefighters. Raise salaries for those departments.

Officers and firefighters complained last year that their colleagues are leaving in droves to agencies that pay them better and work to retain experienced first responders.

Coordinate better with the Richland County Sheriff’s Department and University of South Carolina police to improve safety in Five Points.

• Devise new programs to help at-risk young people through more city programs and heightened engagement with faith-based organizations.

• Devise new capital investment ideas to strengthen the city’s finances.

Top of mind Tuesday night will be the meeting earlier in the day, when City Council and city residents are scheduled to discuss whether to build a minor league baseball park in the planned Bull Street neighborhood.

A ballpark would cost city residents tens of thousands of dollars more than the tens of thousands already committed for the roads, street lighting, water and sewer systems and parking garages that will become the foundations of what’s being called “Columbia Common.”

Benjamin is adamant that the city needs a minor league team.

Benjamin was easily re-elected to a second term in November, then in December lost solidly at the ballot box on a key initiative: converting the city’s form of government to a strong-mayor form.

In December, Benjamin said he might soften his approach with City Council but not his aggressive agenda for his second term.

“I will exhibit the characteristic of patience that my parents instilled in me,” Benjamin said in his mayoral office the day after city residents rejected making him Columbia’s first chief executive even though they re-elected him overwhelmingly the previous month. “I will make every effort to be as warm and fuzzy as council wants me to be. “But I will continue to push for positive change for the people of Columbia.”

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