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Sheltering is Not Enough

September 6, 2013

Over the last few weeks, our community has been engaged in a highly public debate about how the city deals with our homeless brothers and sisters. Although this conversation has been heated at times, I believe all sides have made very valid points about how this city has handled (or not handled) homeless services in our community to this point. But I have been disheartened that in all the “solutions” presented to this point, this conversation has failed to adequately address the root causes of homelessness and what role the city, in partnership with local advocates and agencies, should play in addressing real solutions to help end homelessness.

The current conversation has centered around sheltering the homeless but I fear that conversation, although it has to be addressed, has taken center stage. We have lost the focus on how to assist the homeless and help them get access to life changing resources.

Many people have accurately identified that the homeless population is not monolithic. We in Columbia, like every other city in our nation, have diverse groups of people living on our streets. Our homeless population is made up of people who have mental illnesses and/or substance abuse issues, veterans, ex-offenders, people who have been hit hard by the economy and even families with children. There are even a number of working poor who unfortunately do not earn enough to obtain adequate housing.

As a small business owner, I have empathy for those in our downtown business districts who have expressed their concerns. The concerns are understandable but we must find ways to handle this matter in humane way that will ultimately yield positive results.

One plan, program or solution will not be sufficient to address all of these problems. The solutions considered need to be as diverse as the populations that need to be served.
Some solutions that have been absent from this conversation are the need for more mental health professionals, job training programs and affordable housing.

And just like one program cannot address all the issues, neither can one government agency, volunteer group or non-profit organization. This is a global problem and it is going to require a global approach in order to identify solutions that will benefit the community as a whole.

There are multiple studies, research documents and statistics available about homelessness, but we must add the human element in order to develop a multi-faceted long term comprehensive plan that addresses each population that requires help. We need mental health experts, veterans affairs advocates, affordable housing professionals, government leaders, social workers, and law enforcement officials at the table – just to name a few. Columbia is the home of progressive leaders and caring citizens and I know that we can work together to effectively address this issue.

A short term option is needed, but i also hope the focus of this discussion soon turns toward long term solutions that will address the reasons why people are homeless. Until we do that, we will simply keep spending our time on finding ways to provide shelter and not how to decrease and hopefully end homelessness.

Labor Day

September 2, 2013

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It is the annual national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.

Today, as we celebrate Labor Day, I have to pause to recognize and show appreciation for the 2,289 hard working employees that contribute to the strength of this great City. From public safety, public works, public services and administration, these employees work hard every day to make this City the best it can be. When we turn on our faucet and clean water comes out, or put out our garbage and come home and it has been pick up, we may not think about the fact that this is because of the men and woman who work for the City of Columbia.

On a recent trip to DC, I stayed at a Marriott and picked up “The Spirit to Serve Marriott’s Way” by J. W. Marriott. As part of the introduction it discusses Mr. Marriott’s philosophy, “Take care of your employees and they will take care of the guests”. Although this is not the official mission of the City, it is certainly a longstanding belief of mine. I understand that if we at the City create an environment that encourages, supports and promotes our employees, they will be motivated, conscientious employees that will take care of our citizens.

To that end, here are just some of the ways we have exemplified this philosophy:

  • Public Safety Recruitment and Retention – Council approved a public safety recruitment and retention plan which sets out a definable plan to retain and recruit the best and brightest for our fire, police and 911 services. This plan includes compensation, training and ensuring that they have the best tools and latest technologies to do their job, while also being able to assist with succession planning. This plan was originally approved in 2008, but was not fully implemented in the midst of the economic down turn. I am pleased that this year, council reaffirmed this plan and made provisions for implementation in this year’s budget.
  • City of Columbia Home Loan Program – The City of Columbia provides a home loan program for any employee purchasing a home in the city limits. This is a way to further encourage our employees to live in the community in which they serve.
  • Wellness Program – The city-wide wellness program is open to any City of Columbia employee who wants to participate. Participating employees go through a 12-week fitness and nutrition program. Since this program’s inception, employees have experienced many benefits and the success stories include significant weight loss, healthier lifestyles, a decrease in chronic illnesses and the elimination of some medications. Healthy employees increase the efficiency of an organization and is a more productive employee.
  • Employee Clinic – In 2012, the City opened an employee wellness clinic which is open to all employees. Statistics show that many of the health related illnesses that cause health care costs to increase, if diagnosed early, would save millions of dollars by providing preventive treatment. In recognition of this, we have opened this employee clinic so that employees can see a doctor on a regular basis and hopefully catch illnesses early. This clinic is free to all employees and in its first year of operation has already saved the city and its taxpayers’ money.
  • Community Service/Volunteer policy – This policy allows employees to utilize special leave time to volunteer with projects and organizations that contribute to the health and vitality of our community. Prior to the implementation of this policy, if staff wanted to do any community service hours, they had to take annual leave. This program helps our employees give back to the community and share their talents and skills with those who need it most.
  • Training and Advanced Education – The City of Columbia has a variety of programs that assist our employees in getting training in their field and advanced educational opportunities. We currently work with Richland School District One to help provide GED training for those who currently do not have a high school diploma. Additionally, the city provides for tuition reimbursement for staff that seek to advance their education. We also have partnered with the Fast Forward Technology Center to ensure that employees have access to training on computer skills and other basic technology needed to provide citizens with effective services. It is our mission to build and maintain a qualified team of knowledgeable, well-trained employees. This is in recognition of education being the key to advancement and we want all employees to have unlimited opportunities.

For the City of Columbia to continue to grow and prosper we must value our greatest assets – the employees who work daily to maintain our operations and provide critical services to our citizens. It is in this spirit that I am proud to salute and thank our City employees, as well as all workers in the businesses and agencies throughout our community.

Have a Safe and Happy Labor Day

First Day of School

August 19, 2013

As we begin a new school year, I am so proud of the continued partnerships that the City of Columbia enjoys with Richland School District One.

As our students return to the classroom, the Columbia Police Department will again have School Resource Officers (SROs) in our schools. SROs provide a valuable service in our community. Not only do they help provide a safe learning environment for our children, but they also provide valuable resources to school staff, foster positive relationships with our youth, and help develop strategies to resolve problems affecting our youth with the goal of protecting every child so they can reach their fullest potential. In the wake of the tragedy in Newtown, CT, a lot of parents have been concerned about the safety of our children while in school. The City has worked closely with the administration of Richland School District One to ensure maximum safety and security of our children, before, after and during school.

The City also continues to expand our participation in Safe Routes to Schools (SRTS). Safe Routes to School is a growing movement across the US that brings together parents, schools, and community leaders to encourage students, including those with disabilities, to walk and bike to school. Through our Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, (BPAC), the City has been focused on improving walking and biking conditions around schools while building healthy habits and safety skills. We will be working with parents, communities and schools to expand these efforts this upcoming school year.

The City’s Let’s Move! efforts have been widely successful. Our efforts were recognized this summer at an event at the White House. First Lady Michelle Obama recognized the City for our commitment to helping children live healthy lifestyles but she also challenged us to “double down” on our efforts. Taking this challenge to heart, the City has stepped up our efforts and established new partnerships throughout the community. One partnership includes working with elementary school and child development centers to establish gardens so that children can learn how to grow their own healthy food. If your child’s school does not have a garden and would like one or if you are a gardener and would like to volunteer your expertise, please let me know and we will connect you with this exciting project.

This year the City celebrated our 5th year of Together We Can, a partnership with Richland One formed to support and enhance student achievement, promote the district’s success, and encourage the community to become more involved in Richland One’s schools (the primary school district serving the City of Columbia). Since its inception, the City has worked to help connect over 500 volunteers with Richland One classrooms. Whether it has been a 1 day activity like Together We Can Read or more long term programs like Lunch Buddies and Mentoring, the City is committed to being a catalyst for more community involvement in our schools. To that end, this year the city adopted a Community Service/Volunteer policy. This policy allows employees to utilize special leave time to volunteer with projects and organizations that contribute to the health and vitality of our community. In addition to using this time to participate in other volunteer activities, we have encouraged our employees to use this time to visit their child’s school, mentor and participate in other school related activities.

In this fast pace era of “instant” and “right now” via texting, Instagram, Facebook, etc., we need to make sure our children maintain a sense of self-worth and high self-esteem. It is so easy for our children to get lost in today’s world. It is up to us as parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, guardians and community members to support and reinforce the efforts of our teachers and school administrators. As involved citizens, we can ensure our children are getting the best all around…educationally, socially and spiritually. Our children are our future and education will empower their future.

Best Wishes for a Great School Year!

Welcome to the new website!

August 8, 2013

Welcome to our new website. Please check back for more updates!