WHILE COLUMBIA City Councilwoman Leona Plaugh’s first term was disappointing for someone who possesses such a wealth of knowledge about how the capital city’s government operates, her challenger in Tuesday’s Council District 4 election doesn’t fully explain how he would do a better job.
For sure, Ms. Plaugh has lived up to promises of asking tough questions, insisting the city be prudent about spending and favoring openness and regional cooperation. She has raised some legitimate questions on key issues that the council has tackled. For example, she was among the minority who wisely sought to slow down the process that led to the hasty approval of the agreement to guide the development of the old State Hospital site on Bull Street. Ms. Plaugh was vocal in insisting that the project needed more vetting and that city leaders needed to provide the public with details about how Columbia would fund infrastructure commitments made to the developer.
But despite her bright moments, it has been disappointing that Ms. Plaugh hasn’t been more of a problem solver. Considering that she spent a career working for the city, including a short stint as city manager, we believe it is reasonable to expect her to use that knowledge and insight to be proactive in helping educate fellow council members and shaping policy that moves the city forward.
Todd Walter says Ms. Plaugh’s lack of proactive ideas is a major reason voters should choose him. He says she constantly votes “no” and rarely offers solutions, apparently believing that “it’s better for her to sit there and say no and do nothing.” The real estate developer says he would study the city’s problems carefully to come up with solutions, focusing particularly on improving infrastructure, public safety and other basic services.
Unlike Ms. Plaugh, Mr. Walter says he would have voted in favor of a proposal to prohibit elected officials and administrators from visiting crime scenes as well as a proposal to allow voters to decide whether the city’s day-to-day affairs should be run by a strong mayor. Ms. Plaugh consistently opposed placing strong mayor on the ballot, agreeing to do so only after it was clear that enough voter signatures had been collected to force the matter before voters.
While Ms. Plaugh disputes Mr. Walter’s assertion that she often says no without providing solutions, the fact is that she hasn’t provided the positive input or leadership reasonably expected of someone with her background. If she is to have a meaningful impact on the policies, projects and planning that will influence the people of Columbia and the city’s future, she must do more than oppose proposals and raise questions, no matter how legitimate; she must help devise a way forward.
Frankly, it would be understandable if District 4 voters sought a change. But we don’t think Mr. Walter presents a strong enough argument to replace Ms. Plaugh; more importantly, he doesn’t provide enough detail to suggest he would be an improvement. The conservative approach in this instance is to stick with the incumbent. Voters should re-elect Ms. Plaugh.