Columbus Mayor Kristen Brown and City Councilman Jim Lienhoop both outlined their views of city government to the Meridian Kiwanis club recently.
The two will face off for the Republican nomination for mayor in the May primary. Lienhoop spoke to the club Thursday, and Brown appeared March 12th.
Lienhoop said one of the reasons he is running is because of the high turnover in City Hall. He said there has been an almost complete turnover in department heads during Brown’s tenure as well as the loss of experienced employees.
“I can’t run my business that way, I can’t imagine that any of you could either,” Lienhoop said. “When you talk about spending, part of what you have to have are people who know how to do what we do efficiently….”
“That takes years of experience. And we have seen, literally, decades worth of experience walk out the door in this current administration. We have got to stop that. We have to stem that tide, we have to stop that turnover.”
Brown said she has made many changes in the way the city runs and there has been pushback because change is difficult.
“I feel very strongly about what we are doing right now in City Hall and our efforts,” Brown said. “I am proud of our accomplishments. And I am even more encouraged by some of the projects we are working on now that are longer term. I feel very committed to those things and I felt that if I didn’t run or weren’t re-elected many of those things would fall to the floor and I feel strongly about the progress we are making and the direction we are heading.”
Both candidates spoke about the importance of bringing jobs to Columbus. Brown touted the expansion of Cummins during her tenure and Toyota’s decision to move its U.S. headquarters here.
“We have never before in our history had more people been going to work every day,” Brown said. “In fact, we are actually at about 52,000 jobs in the community — it is actually the county, our Columbus Metropolitan Area effectively is the county — 52,000 jobs right now, an all-time record high, almost 42,000 peak residents employed, all-time record high.”
But Lienhoop said the city has stalled on bringing new companies to Columbus. He said Brown is not taking part in overseas recruiting.
“That is part of the reason why I took it upon myself to go to Japan and China last fall,” Lienhoop said. “The city paid for the trip, but nobody paid me for my time. I just did that because I felt like it had to be done. I think we did some good over there but it is a pretty long … sales cycle. But it is critical for our community to continute to foster economic development. You can never take your foot off the gas. And that is more or less what we have done and that is what I want to do differently.”
The candidates also shared their concerns for the major increase in train traffic that will cross Jonathan Moore Pike into downtown Columbus. The CSX railroad has a proposal to use the Lousiville and Indiana Railroad tracks through town, more than tripling the number of trains that come through every day.
“Honestly, I have banded together with the other mayors,” Brown said. “We have been pushing for some sort of funding. We have been to Coats, Messer, Young, the governor. We are doing our best but I think it is going to be a done deal and we are going to be struggling to find the funding for it. That is the unfortunate reality.”
Lienhoop said Columbus should be uniting with other communities on the issue.
“What we need to be able to do is work together with some of the mayors in some of these other communities,” Lienhoop said. “Because when we go somewhere else and ask for money to fix that problem, they don’t see… a $35 million problem. They see a $100 million problem. Because is they take care of us, they have to take care of Franklin, Seymour and all of these other communities up and down the line.”