Three people are running for Columbia City Council’s at-large seat that’s open this year: Tyler Bailey, Jesse Bullard and Christa Williams. (Photos provided by candidates/Carolina News and Reporter)
Addressing quality of life issues faced by neighborhood residents is a top priority for all three candidates vying for the open at-large Columbia City Council seat.
The seat is open this election cycle because incumbent Howard Duvall, who was elected to the position in 2015, decided not to seek reelection.
Tyler Bailey, Jesse Bullard and Christa Williams are looking to replace Duvall.
Duvall has been a staunch defender of neighborhoods during his tenure. He most notably played an instrumental role in passing regulations for late-night bars and most recently, the ordinance regulating Airbnb and other short-term rentals in the city.
Duvall’s departure has left some residents worried they might loose their most influential voice on council, one they think is consistently sympathetic to the concerns of neighborhoods.
Cottontown Neighborhood Association President Denise Wellman said Duvall has been an “exceptional servant” of the city and will be missed. She said she hopes the next at-large representative would be as responsive to concerns.
“He deserves to retire, but we are sad,” Wellman said. “I’m personally looking for someone that is willing to be accessible, to help us problem solve, to listen and to understand that neighborhoods really are important.”
All three candidates, who are running non-partisan races, promised to be a voice for neighborhoods.
“People in our neighborhoods are the lifeblood of Columbia,” said Bailey, an attorney who runs his own firm. “Their voices need to be heard when it comes down to policies.”
Bullard, a partner and vice president at Southern Way Catering, said local government’s function is to listen to residents.
“I look at municipal government as a service business, and taxpayers as our customers,” Bullard said. “If we can’t first and foremost take care of our customers and be responsive to the needs that they have in those neighborhoods, then we’re not doing our job.”
Williams, who owns and operates Uncle Willie’s Grocery on North Main Street, said listening is everything.
“If they have a concern or an issue they can bring that to me,” said Williams, who ran unsuccessfully for council’s District 1 seat in 2021. “I’m going to be a person that they would be able to talk to and get various issues resolved.”
President of the Northwood Hills Neighborhood Association and president-elect for the Columbia Council of Neighborhoods Pat Brown laid out what qualities she was looking for in the next At-Large representative.
“Someone who is concerned about the neighborhoods in the city of Columbia and how they can use their position to better the neighborhoods,” Brown said. “But also one that’s working with both the neighborhood and the business community, we don’t want to leave out the business community.”
Brown added small businesses flourishing was important for the well-being of neighborhoods.
“A lot of tax dollars that come from these businesses are funneled back into the neighborhoods,” Brown said.
Striking the right balance between aiding the city’s growth and development without negatively affecting residential areas is the biggest challenge the candidates say they face.
Bailey said it’s possible to balance the concerns of businesses and residents.
“I don’t think it’s either or,” Bailey said. “We do want businesses, we want density, we want housing, we want development, … but we can do that in a way that develops with the community rather than to the community.”
Bullard said balancing the interests of multiple groups is important.
“It is a puzzle,” Bullard said. “You can’t talk about vibrant neighborhoods without talking about successful businesses to support those. And you can’t talk about successful businesses without wonderful neighborhoods for their employees and customers to live in.”
Williams said City Council has to be more deliberate in regulating future development.
“We have to have that balance (between) community issues along with growth and development,” Williams said. “It’s a proactive stance. It’s saying we’re not going to spend 10 years just building buildings and housing and not maintaining the infrastructure that we already have.”
Crime and homelessness are other major issues many neighborhoods face, Cottontown’s Wellman said.
All three candidates have been attending neighborhood council meetings while on the campaign trail.
Bailey said among his priorities if elected would be addressing gun violence and improving the city’s parks and recreation system.
Bullard similarly said he would prioritize addressing public safety and gun crimes and also would work on lowering taxes.
Willams said she would prioritize growing tourism and creating more affordable housing.
Sherwood Forest Neighborhood Association Vice President Pat Mason said he’d like the new at-large representative to increase spending on neighborhoods.
“The city has a budget of $50 million, and they’ve allocated $15,000 for neighborhood grants,” Mason said. “It seems to me that the leaders who live in these neighborhoods who get elected to City Council and County Councils ought to be aware there are opportunities for neighbors to gather together to apply for a grant, put up signs, fix a garden, make a dog park.”
City of Columbia municipal elections will be held Tuesday, Nov. 7. Voting is from 7 a/m/ to 7 p.m. Early voting already has begun.
Council is divided into two at-large districts, four geographic districts and the mayor, all elected during alternate odd-numbered years.
Also up this year are the District 2 seat, where incumbent Ed McDowell Jr. is running unopposed, and the District 3 seat, where incumbent Will Brennan is being challenged by former councilman Moe Baddourah.
A campaign sign on Marion Street for Columbia at-large candidate Tyler Bailey (Photo by Camdyn Bruce/Carolina News and Reporter)
A campaign sign on Assembly Street for Columbia at-large candidate Jesse Bullard (Photo by Camdyn Bruce/Carolina News and Reporter)
A campaign sign in the Cottontown neighborhood for Columbia at-large candidate Christa Williams (Photo by Camdyn Bruce/Carolina News and Reporter)