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City Council Election 2011: Interview with Mark Noble

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Mark Noble is one of two Libertarian candidates running for Columbus City Council this year, marking a strong showing from third party candidates in this election season. Mark is a Clintonville resident who also currently serves as the chair of the Franklin County Libertarian Party.

Below are Mark Noble’s answers to 15 interview questions that specifically address the concerns of Columbus Underground readers:

Q: Can you tell us a bit about your personal, professional, and political background?

A: I was born in Columbus and raised on the north side of town. I live in Clintonville with my wife Loretta and we’re expecting our first child at the end of February.

I’m a graduate of The Ohio State University with a degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering and have spent my entire career in the technology field with companies in all parts of the city. I’m currently employed as a Software Engineer at the state’s largest online charter school.

As the chair of the Franklin County Libertarian Party and I’ve worked hard to advance the cause of liberty in Franklin County and beyond. I’m presently serving my third term as party chair.

Q: What drove you to run for City Council, and what are your primary areas of interest when it comes to Columbus issues?

A: This is an important job which entails making carefully thought out decisions that will represent the communities I will serve. Ultimately these decisions will do the greatest good for the greatest number of people while upholding respect for the personal freedoms of all. If elected I will prioritize efforts to work with the other City Council members as a team, to move the city forward. Resultant decisions should always be conducive to the ultimate goal of making Columbus a place where businesses and families can thrive.

Q: The topic of economic development is a hot issue in Central Ohio, with renewed emphasis through the Columbus 2020 program. How do you specifically define “economic development” and what specific types of programs will help the regional economy grow over the next five to ten years?

A: My definition of economic development is economic growth. When I listen to entrepreneurs, small business people, and job seekers – these people aren’t asking for Council to swoop in and engineer a set of instructions to follow. Their issues tend to be obstacles that are in the way of growth. Usually these obstacles are ones that the city has put in place. These are the obstacles I plan to focus on lifting. Cut the red tape, remove that hurdle, get it out of the way of people who are just trying to grow our economy, grow businesses, and grow families.

Q: Downtown Columbus has grown residentially and commercially over the past 10 years, due to public investment and a renewed national focus on urban living. What further needs to be done from a public policy level to continue the growth of the core of our city?

A: I spend a lot of time meeting the people I will soon be representing on Columbus City Council. Their opinions and insights are important to me. Many of these discussions have been with people who are moving out of the city. I ask them for their reason for doing this – and I have heard one answer… Jobs.

Over the past 10 years our public policy has been to spend uncontrollably – but we can’t attract business and families to our city by saying “Come to Columbus so we can bleed you dry with taxes, fees, utility hikes, and regulations!”

People want a hassle free city, where they keep what they earn and where government focuses on what it does best – coordinating essential services to create a stable environment where people can come together to create a thriving Columbus. Public policy should be to resist the temptation to meddle in the affairs of city residents and focus on ensuring that the services we have today are here tomorrow at a price that people can afford.

Q: A common anecdotal complaint about local government centers on a lack of adequate city services: unplowed streets, lack of curb-side recycling, potholes, too few proactive police patrols, et cetera. Is this a funding issue, a geographic issue, or something else entirely?

A: These are all questions of priorities. Government needs to maintain a certain level of flexibility. What’s adequate for one neighborhood might not be adequate for another. While it’s common to hear complaints about adequacy of city services, people are also stretched thin when it comes to funding them. Core services like police and fire protection already take up a bulk of the budget. To span this gap, we’re going to need to think of ways to provide better service with the resources we have and to prioritize the resources where we see the greatest need and can have the greatest impact.

Q: It’s practically a daily occurrence that a national publication produces an article on the growing importance of public transportation networks to young professionals and the Millennial generation. Does our lack of rail transit hurt our ability to attract young talent to our region, and if so, what needs to be done to address this issue?

A: The main problem with rail is flexibility and affordability. None of the proposed inter-city solutions would have offered more frequent or more affordable service than existing options like bussing. Busses can also be easily re-routed around gas leaks, car accidents, or traffic congestion. There is no reason we can’t get better service out of our existing transit investments and make it accessible to more people.

Our city made the same mistake as others across the nation by setting public policy against our network of private streetcar and inter-urban railroads – driving them out of business. The answer to our transportation woes isn’t in centralized planning to funnel more traffic onto the existing highway infrastructure. We’re on the cusp of a boom in technology driven enhancements in efficiency – the very tip of which is real-time traffic and GPS routing that some city residents already use to improve their commutes.

One important role for the city is to conduct studies to document areas of greatest need, and to facilitate coordination between our public and private transportation options to weave it into a dense tapestry of accessible and reliable transportation. There is no one-size fits all transportation solution and the options available should reflect that.

Q: Small businesses are the cornerstone of our economy. What are the biggest challenges that our small business community currently faces, and what would you do differently to address those challenges?

A: The biggest complaint I hear from small business owners is “customer service”. The city does a terrible job of being responsive and working with businesses to communicate about issues in a timely and respectful fashion.

We need our downtown to be as welcoming as the suburbs. People need to feel safe, they need to feel that parking and transportation will not be a headache, and they don’t want to have to worry about having a traffic ticket added to the expense of a trip because they misread a sign in the midst of the bustle. Big-box retailers are such stiff competition for down-town businesses because they limit the hassle. If we want to grow our urban core, we need to be focused on helping our businesses to compete against their suburban counterparts.

Q: Several years ago, Columbus was ranked the No. 1 “Up & Coming Tech City” in the country. What role does Columbus city government play in continuing to support our technology-friendly environment from a city services perspective?

A: Columbus’s tech sector is likely to be the core upon which our city is reborn and rebuilt. This is fantastic news for that our city can attract these innovators to our city.

My background as an Electrical & Computer Engineer is bound to come in handy over the span of my four year term. When I look at what the city can do to help spur technological growth, they can best encourage it by getting out of the way of tech entrepreneurs.

As our city’s entrepreneurs continue to grow businesses dedicated to solving some of the difficult problems of our time, our laws need to be updated to give innovation a clear path and a wide berth. Our laws need to be updated with the help of people such as myself who have spent my entire career in the technology sector.

Q: The recent announcement that the City of Columbus and Franklin County would be purchasing Nationwide Arena has quickly become a hotly discussed topic. What is your personal stance on this issue, and why is it a good/bad deal for taxpayers and a good/bad deal for the region?

A: If I was a member of City Council today, I would have voted NO on this measure. This deal is simply a bailout for the arena landlords and it ignores the fact that time and again Columbus residents have voted against publicly funded arenas. It doesn’t make any sense to take money from one entertainment business (the casino) to bail out a competing entertainment business (the arena).

Thanks to a diverse array of businesses, and the arena’s capabilities as a multi-purpose facility, hockey isn’t the only game in town. The businesses of the Arena District have managed to thrive in spite of a failure to attract capacity crowds at sporting events. It’s because of this strength that I’m confident that the wealthy investors behind the arena will do just fine without a public bailout.

Q: A portion of the revenue from the Columbus Hollywood Casino is being earmarked for the purchase of Nationwide Arena. Where else should the Casino revenue be spent, and what percentage should be earmarked for redevelopment of West Side neighborhoods surrounding the Casino?

A: The Casino revenue should be targeted at improving the long-term sustainability of critical city services by helping to ensure that the city is eventually able to attain financial independence. This would help insulate us from future economic pressures on State and Federal budgets. In preparing for the worst, we’ll also lay a framework for growth should the economy improve. With this foundation, both businesses and families can thrive, knowing that essential services are covered and allowing the costs of city services to remain stable and affordable.

Q: According to an article published in April by USA Today, the inner core of Columbus (defined as a 3-mile radius from the center of Downtown) saw 45 percent growth in the number of 20 to 40-year-old residents, a faster growth rate than the rest of the region as a whole. In the years ahead, as these young professionals look to buy homes, have children, and further invest in their community, what specifically needs to be addressed to keep them engaged in central-city neighborhoods?

A: To keep people moving downtown we need to ensure that it’s a hassle-free place to live. That means efficient transportation, responsive emergency services, and the sort of environment that makes the city a pleasant place to live and work.

Q: Beyond programs that target the young professional demographic, what types of programs and initiatives would further accelerate the revitalization of urban Columbus neighborhoods, such as Franklinton, The King Lincoln District, The South Side, Weinland Park and beyond?

A: I’d suggest reconsidering our current property tax structure because today this structure rewards owners of dilapidated run-down housing and penalizes those working to improve their housing. As houses fall into disrepair they are worth less and less – and the owners are rewarded with lower property taxes. On the other hand, people who renovate and improve homes are penalized by being taxed more for creating value and improving the neighborhood.

Rather than setting property taxes on the value of land and improvements, I’d advocate a plan to set rates based on land values across the entire neighborhood. Those buying and improving homes within struggling neighborhoods would experience great savings and maintain low tax rates that would grow with the value of the entire neighborhood, while those who allow their properties to fall into disrepair would see disincentives for allowing their properties to lay fallow.

With this fresh approach, people contributing to urban renewal would be rewarded, while those at the root of the problem would be encouraged to improve their properties.

Q: Arguably, the largest issue on this year’s ballot is SB5. What is your stance on this issue, and why do you feel it’s important for voters to vote “yes” or “no” on this issue?

A: Deciding on this issue is not within the scope of duties of the Columbus City Council.

My personal view on the issue is that nobody should stand between an employer and employee when it comes to employment contract negations. Not the government and not meddlesome third parties. This includes the ability for individuals to bargain collectively with their employers.

There are two sides to this coin though, and nobody seeking work should be prevented from getting a job just because they’re not interested in becoming a part of an existing collective bargaining arrangement.

This issue affects me personally because I am a state school employee. It makes me glad that this decision is in the hands of you, the people. We’ve seen the views of the State Legislature on the issue, and we’ve heard the voice of the Governor. Now it’s time to see the will of the people. As your City Councilman, I’ll respect the decision of the people on this issue and continue to work with our public employee unions to ensure that important city services are able to thrive and that budgetary targets can be met.

Q: Several weeks ago, local leaders met to discuss the importance of arts funding and the growth of the creative class as it relates to economic development. How can Columbus invest in the creative community, specifically as it relates to smaller arts collectives and individual artists?

A: Arts are what free and thriving people do with their time after their critical needs have been met. I’d have a hard time diverting funds to the arts as long as there are hungry, homeless, and impoverished residents in our city.

Until those in most need of help have a certain and promising future in our city I’d work to offer artists an environment that embraces free expression and fosters a thriving creative environment ripe for artistic entrepreneurship.

Q: Please summarize in one sentence why our readers should vote for you in November.

A: As an alternative to the status quo on city council, I have the vision, principles, and experience to address the City’s issues of tomorrow as well as today.

More information can be found online at VoteForNoble.com.

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