City Council Candidate Profile: Scott Singratsomboune
When Scott Singratsomboune tells people he’s running as an independent, people are immediately skeptical.
He says the wheels start turning in people’s heads, trying to figure out whether he’s a “closet Democrat” or “closet Republican.”
“They’re trying to figure out, well if he says it this way or uses this word, this is an indicator as to what he believes on all things,” he says.
It’s not unfounded. Oftentimes when a political candidate runs as an independent, their values and ideas still align pretty clearly with the left or the right. And though Singratsomboune admits some of his ideas can sound pretty progressive, he maintains he likes to “follow the facts where they go.”
Singratsomboune (pronounced SING-RAT-SOME-BOONE) grew up on the Far East Side in a single-parent, working-class household. He graduated from Independence High School in 2002, and in 2004 he joined the U.S. Army as a tank mechanic and spent three and a half years on active duty, including a deployment to Iraq. He later joined the Army Reserves as a special victim paralegal.
“If I had not had mentors in my life, if I had not eventually come to the Army, I might be living a very different life right now,” he says.
In his Olde Towne East neighborhood, there are a lot of younger kids. He says he worries about the path they will take, and if they will wind up “working the streets all day” if they have nothing to latch onto.
“I don’t want that for them,” he says. “So I want to find ways to improve our community. That’s why I’m running.”
Columbus Underground sat down with the council candidate to discuss the issues, council appointments, running independently and his take on present City Council practices:
Tax abatements and education:
“All of the challengers are going to have similar issues— matter of fact, the incumbents are going to probably bring up a lot of the same issues as well. So for me, it starts with education. Education is the most important issue for me because I think it’s the long-term solution to a lot of our problems.
“Education’s not going to be able to save everybody, but education to me really kind of builds a floor in for folks. Because if you have a college education, there are so many more opportunities available to you than if you have only a high school diploma or if you didn’t finish high school at all. So it really starts there.
“From the purview of City Council, then you’re thinking about funding. We don’t control curriculum or what happens in the schools day-to-day. So for me, it’s not about stopping tax abatements wholesale.
“We need to analyze when it comes to the city giving out these tax abatements. I mean, we have instances where the city’s given out tax abatements, millions of dollars to a business, and that business has created fewer than 10 low-wage jobs. Is that a winning deal for the city? I would say probably not. There have been successes in tax abatements. But there’s enough [of] what seems to be at least mismanagement, maybe incompetence, or it may be corruption. I don’t know where on the spectrum it lies, but there’s enough issues with it that we should take a really hard look at it.
“We gave CoverMyMeds $70 million, and that also reduced school funding by over $40 million. In Columbus, we have the biggest school district in the state. We have a different population than other populations as far as students go. We have a higher rate of students with disabilities, students who don’t speak English as a primary language and almost all of our students have economic disadvantages. And those three classes of students cost more to educate. So if you look at how much we spend per student, you might say, well we in Columbus spend almost as much as everybody else. But that’s not the point. The point being that we have a different population of students, they cost more to educate, and we’re falling behind as a result. Funding isn’t the only issue in our schools, but it’s a major issue. And in City Council, that’s the one that I can really tackle.”
“I think that if you care about your community, if you know the issues and if you’re willing to do hard work, then I think that you should have a shot at City Council, and that’s something that we haven’t had in years. There’s nothing wrong with running with a group, but when one group has controlled every seat on a seven-person council, I think that’s bad for democracy.
“Where’s the diversity of ideas? I don’t want to say where’s the devil’s advocate, but someone needs to be in there challenging folks on [the] issues. Because the last thing that you want at City Council is an echo chamber where everyone just agrees or agrees despite knowing that there are total problems with what’s going on behind the curtain. We’ve seen that happen with the school board.
“I mean, I’ve been all around Columbus, and so many folks I talk to…Some of them would go so far as to say they want a Republican on City Council, someone who’s independent. A lot of folks are looking for at least a progressive. People want a different mix of ideas at City Council and when you have seven seats, I think that’s attainable or it should be, but it hasn’t been. So we need some change.
“If someone has a better idea than me, the good thing about being independent is I can change my mind. I don’t have to subscribe to some orthodoxy, or tow the line or [follow] any kind of party rules. Being independent gives me that flexibility.
“As far as schools line up, I line up alright with progressives, but I don’t agree on everything as far as how to get there. Because some of the progressive stuff, it’s just hard to know how we’re going to get from where we are now to where we want to be. But that doesn’t mean that the goals shouldn’t change. Ultimately, the goal should be to make everyone’s lives better. The problem is just, well how do we get there?”
Appointments, and the previously suggested ward system for City Council:
“So I have a lot of problems with [the] way that Columbus City Council is constructed. I think that we would get better representation out of a ward system. And don’t get me wrong, there are problems with ward systems, but I think that those problems are less than the problems that we have now. So we have a system where 35 in the last 39 were appointed initially, not elected. And they all leave in the middle of their terms. They move into full-time positions that pay a lot more and have a very different set of responsibilities [as if] they were just kind of hanging on City Council for a little while. We are moving to a hybrid ward system in 2023, where council is expanding from seven members to nine members, and the city’s going to be divided up into nine wards. And so you have to live within a ward to be elected, but the whole city will still vote on you.
“And for me, what that means is we’re going to go from a system where the majority group controls all seven seats on council, to another system where the majority group will still control all nine seats on council. So if you’re a sizable minority in Columbus, you don’t have a shot.
“It’s a sort of disenfranchisement. The NAACP has a problem with that because, if you have minorities that could win seats — because they have a sizable group of folks that support them — you’re completely cut out, because again, we’re not talking about control of most [of] the seats, we’re talking about control of all of the seats. It’s been brought up that in the 2017 election, Jasmine Ayres was the next highest vote-getter. When they go to fill an appointment, should the next highest vote-getter be the one to get there? Or folks have said, well maybe if you get appointed, you can’t run for the next election. Or perhaps even changing the way that those appointees get resources…so that you’re not rewarded with the advantage of incumbency simply for being appointed.”
His thoughts on the present City Council’s work:
“City Council passes legislation that accomplishes — I would say nothing, but let’s just say next to nothing — and then takes victory laps for having passed that legislation. The one thing that I do not want to do, trying to get into politics, is to pander to folks. Or try to take credit for something that really didn’t accomplish much of anything. Or the old trick of we’re going to change the name of a program…and all of a sudden we’re going to see something new that we’re doing as an initiative.
“For example, City Council passed campaign finance reform in 2016, and then they did some amendments in 2017 and 2019. The campaign finance reform that they passed did not affect their ability to receive huge donations from the most powerful groups and developers and big business interest
in Columbus. So they’ve kind of turned the idea of campaign finance on its head where, they didn’t limit the power of money in politics, but they created more work for small candidates.
“Another example of that are their tax incentives. So they pass rules saying if you, business, want a tax incentive from us, the city, then you have to pay a 15 minimum wage, which I think is a great step. But it’s also only a half step because they tied at least one of those incentives to a state-level tax incentive that requires something like 10 new jobs to be created and $660,000 in new payroll be created. So what that means is if you’re a smaller business, and you’re trying to grow your business, you’re kind of cut out from those incentives.
“For me, when it comes to helping businesses, it’s about helping small businesses grow, especially in minority-owned businesses. But if you can’t receive a tax incentive because your growth is smaller than a bigger business, you’re going to fall behind. We’re creating a system that leads to market consolidation when we should be promoting market competition.
“So I think City Council takes credit for legislation that doesn’t accomplish much at all or has huge blind spots that if they had someone else up there with a different perspective, they would have fixed those blind spots.”
His final pitch:
“We haven’t had diversity on City Council for 20 years. And I think that as the city grows, and as the city diversifies and as we see all these changes going on, that we deserve folks in different areas of the city with different experiences to come together to make decisions for our city as a whole.
“I don’t agree with everything that the Yes We Can challenger candidates say, but that’s the point for me. Because I think City Council should be made up of people who disagree on issues. But folks who are willing to compromise, not on their values, but you know — you can’t [always] get what you want at any given point in time. But folks who can compromise on the issues, find common ground, work together and make the city better. That’s what I want for the city. Because even though we don’t always agree, the point is we need new ideas.”
For more information on Singratsomboune’s platform, visit his Facebook page.
Read profiles with other candidates running for City Council in the November election.