COLUMBIA MAYOR BOB Coble outlined an admirable list of initiatives for 2005 in his State of the City Address, but his chances of making it all happen are hampered by the city’s form of government.
The mayor proposed goals and initiatives that would help improve the city. But under the council-manager form of government, the mayor is little more than a council member who presides over meetings and ribbon- cuttings. An unelected manager prepares the proposed budget, hires and fires and runs the city.
In his address, Mayor Coble said there are four most pressing issues, beginning with the need to increase the number of police officers by 53 to 76 over the next three years. The mayor is concerned that the crime rate, which decreased from 1993 to 2003, went up in 2004. Adding just 53 new officers would cost the city about $3 million initially; about $2.5 million would be an annual, ongoing expense.
The other tough issues are addressing gang violence, finding a location for an emergency shelter for the homeless and providing permanent funding for the Central Midlands Regional Transportation Authority.
Mayor Coble said the city must seize on what he calls opportunities to make historic advancements. They include helping USC with infrastructure for its research campus, developing a strategic plan to create a Next Energy Cluster in Columbia and establishing an affordable housing fund to help renters. He said he wants the city to become more attentive to historic preservation as a way to spur economic development.
He also reaffirmed the need to study the city’s form of government, which a recently established commission will do. The mayor also called on the Legislature to address Home Rule issues, such as annexation, planning and revenue options for local governments.
In addition, the mayor hailed the progress and development taking place or planned along the river, in the Vista and downtown. He also lauded improvements and development possibilities at the State Hospital property on Bull Street and in areas such as Five Points, Saxon Homes, East Central Columbia and the North Main Street corridor.
This is Mayor Coble’s second year making a State of the City address. Certainly, he can use his position, though weak, as a bully pulpit to draw attention to issues he believes will help the city progress. His diligent work might persuade council members to join his efforts. But council members, particularly those elected from districts, often have their own agendas that don’t mesh with the mayor’s.
The result is a slow, plodding process that too often leads to nowhere. Columbia would benefit from a form of government that allows a full-time elected leader empowered by and accountable to the people to run the city. A strong mayor would present an executive budget and hire and fire employees. He also would craft a vision for Columbia and have the authority to coordinate and organize the city’s day-to-day operations in a way to support that vision.
We commend Mayor Coble for setting a solid agenda for the city, knowing he has limited control over whether it is heeded. But it shouldn’t be that way. Columbia really should seriously consider changing its form of government.