City manager: Better communication with citizens at the heart as Columbia grows

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Columbia is embracing an era of authenticity, openness and honest communication and facing issues head-on, Interim City Manager John Glascock said Wednesday morning at his first State of the City address.

“My background is in solving problems one-on-one and being prepared for the next role,” Glascock told the nearly full Council Chambers in the Daniel Boone Building. “I can tell you getting up and doing the State of the City is foreign to me.”

The Columbia City Council appointed Glascock interim city manager in November after Mike Matthes resigned amid criticism from the City Council about employee wage concerns and his views about community policing.

Although the majority of residents say they are satisfied living in Columbia, their two main concerns were public safety services and street conditions, Glascock said, referring to a Columbia citizens survey conducted in late 2018.

He said that first and foremost, employees are the core of the city. Columbia workers’ wages are below compensation rates based on market data, Glascock said. Turnover has increased, and employees are often overworked and underpaid and sometimes work multiple jobs to make ends meet.

“When we lose skills and knowledge of our employees, it’s not just an internal issue — it’s felt in the community as well,” Glascock said.

Electric utility and solid waste collection workers complained their wages were not competitive and they were being unfairly compensated, according to previous Missourian reporting. In April, the council unanimously voted to increase electric lineworker pay, and, earlier, refuse collectors received a $2 pay increase.

While the city will work toward improvements for competitive wage jobs, Columbia’s employment rate is below 3 percent, Glascock said.

Businesses such as Aurora Organic Dairy and American Outdoor Brands have added jobs with competitive pay to Columbia that help grow the community, he said.

For the past five years, public safety has been a top priority of citizens, and this year was not any different.

Glascock said he shares a vision for transparency and community policing with Interim Police Chief Geoff Jones, who was selected for the position in January after the Ken Burton resigned as police chief. Jones has focused on strengthening the community’s relationship and communication with the Columbia Police Department.

“I chose Interim Police Chief Geoff Jones to fill the leadership position because I know he understands the importance of open, honest and transparent communication, both with his officers and the community,” Glascock said.

He said transparency also means working with community stakeholders to make improvements. He cited data from the 2018 vehicle stop report data that showed a slight decrease in the racial disparity rate — pulling over black drivers more often than white drivers — but still an overall high racial disparity rate.

Recently, Jones created a committee to address the data with community members, focusing on what is behind the data rather than just the numbers.

Mayor Brian Treece said after Glascock’s address that Jones has achieved key objectives in his four months in his new position, including increasing officer morale and strengthening communication with the community.

Glascock also highlighted the Columbia Fire Department, which will have two new stations, one in southwestern Columbia and one in the eastern part of the city. The department has achieved international accreditation, which is an “elite status,” he said.

Street conditions were the No. 2 concern on the Columbia citizens survey, and Glascock estimated the replacement cost of Columbia’s 1,300 land miles of streets at $575 million. Although current funding is better than the past, the city is still $2 million below delivering quality street service, he said.

Glascock emphasized the importance not only of maintaining city streets but also the roads outside Columbia that keep the city connected.

“Together we can suppor t I-70 Missouri River Bridge project,” he said. “I-70 is our lifeline to Columbia. It’s how we receive goods and services.”

Columbia is the fourth largest city in Missouri and the fastest growing, which Glascock called encouraging, but the needs of the city are outpacing the revenue it receives. Glascock encouraged residents to attend the City Council budget work session June 10, when many of the city’s budgeting concerns will be addressed.

The city is working on the next strategic plan, he said, which will focus heavily on community input.

“Our strategic plan should be a dynamic philosophy that is baked into the city staff’s DNA, not just a document we point to,” Glascock said. “Together we can create a vision that will guide our staff and community members to a prosperous and inclusive future.”

Treece called Glascock’s address humble and authentic and said his prioritization of city worker wages, teamwork and transparency is what taxpayers expect.

“The city of Columbia is strong and getting stronger,” Treece said. “Interim Chief Geoff Jones as well as the interim city manager provide a steady hand and, if anything, the last two years of election show that people want steady leadership.”

Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.

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