VOTERS IN COLUMBIA City Council District 4 are fortunate to have two solid candidates in Tuesday’s special election to succeed the late Leona Plaugh.
Daniel Rickenmann has already served eight years on the council as an at-large representative, building a mostly solid record of fiscal responsibility and sound judgment. Jessica Lathren is a Columbia businesswoman whose resume includes 15 years with IBM.
While we believe either candidate would well serve District 4 residents, Mr. Rickenmann’s record on the council makes him the better choice.
He was initially elected to City Council in 2004, unseating incumbent Jim Papadea. During the next eight years, he was credited with helping to reform the city’s troubled finances and its budgeting process. The changes helped convert a $3 million budget deficit in 2008 to a surplus during his last three years in office.
Mr. Rickenmann pointed to the elimination of 150 positions and the decision to make employees pay part of their health-care costs — not exactly popular moves — as keys to that turnaround. He also helped negotiate a new fire service contract with Richland County.
After serving two, four-year terms, Mr. Rickenmann said he applied term limits to himself in 2012 and did not seek re-election. When he left, another council member said he was probably “our most effective member.”
Just four and a half years later, Mr. Rickenmann notes, Columbia has become a 24-hour city, with growth in the Vista and along Main Street, including a burgeoning residential population downtown. His focus, he says, will be on small-business retention. Since the Midlands is not a manufacturing hub, he believes the key to continued growth is developing, retaining and maintaining smaller companies.
He criticized what he called the city’s relatively high property taxes and business license fees. He also said the city needs to cut the bureaucracy associated with starting new businesses. He wants to refocus the city’s economic development office to provide more support for local businesses, with a particular emphasis on retail and real estate companies.
Ms. Lathren is the operations manager for Mann Global Health, an international public-health consulting company. She previously held several management positions with IBM, including as marketing program manager. In those positions, she has worked on several complex projects, and she believes that experience would apply to serving in local government.
If elected, her priorities would be helping to resolve the dispute between Dreher High School and nearby residents over the construction of sports facilities; working to improve infrastructure, especially addressing lingering damage from the October 2015 floods; and ensuring Columbia’s livability is sustained as the city grows.
She has focused more than Mr. Rickenmann on the specific needs of District 4, saying the area needs to develop a brand to build its identity and attract more businesses. She wants to ensure the district is on the city’s list for basic improvements.
Mr. Rickenmann said that while residents in some other City Council districts bicker about who gets more from the city, people in District 4 tend to focus on issues that affect the entire city. Still, he wants to ensure the basic needs of the district are being met.
District 4 is in the eastern area of Columbia and includes the Cedar Terrace, Gregg Park, Hampton’s Grant, Meadowfield and Kilbourne Park communities.
The timing of Tuesday’s special election is unfortunate. It will be held two days after New Year’s and less than two months after the volatile November general election.
But voters shouldn’t ignore or overlook the election. While presidential and statewide politics are important, city government directly impacts our lives in many more ways. The city determines the quality of our police and fire protection, water and sewer service, garbage collection, and many other services.
Voters in District 4 have two strong candidates. In her meeting with The State’s editorial board, Ms. Lathren seemed earnest about wanting to serve her city. She was confident in her ability to do so. Regardless of the outcome Tuesday, we hope she remains focused on serving our region.
Still, we think Mr. Rickenmann is more qualified to ensure that Columbia’s city services are delivered effectively and efficiently.