City Council Election 2011: Interview with Michelle Mills
Michelle Mills was one of two appointees to City Council made in January to replace two outgoing members of council and serve the interim period leading up to November’s election. Michelle continues to serve as the President of St. Stephen’s Community House, an organization that provides civic and social service programs in the Linden neighborhood.
Below are Michelle Mills’ 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 appointed to City Council January 2011, and currently chair the Public Safety and Judiciary Committees. In addition to my work as a member of Council, I serve as President and CEO of St. Stephen’s Community House. I work every day to improve the lives of Columbus residents, by promoting healthy families and safe neighborhoods as both a member of Columbus City Council and President and CEO of St Stephen’s Community House.
I am a Cleveland native and received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Cleveland State University. I received my Master’s degree from Case Western Reserve University – Mandel School of Applied Social Science. In 2010 I began a program with Harvard University Business School in partnership with NGE Partnership. I am a Licensed Social Worker in the State of Ohio.
Q: What drove you to run for City Council, and what are your primary areas of interest when it comes to Columbus issues?
A: Every day as I drive to work at St. Stephen’s Community House, I am reminded of how far our city has come – and how remains for us to do. I am fighting every day for the investments that empower our neighborhoods to succeed in the 21st century. In the next four years, I will continue to press for innovative public safety programs like neighborhood safety grants, Community Crime Patrol and truancy prevention. Just as important, my colleagues and I will renew our focus on small business development, fighting for every single job in Columbus.
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: The City Council should continue to invest in job creation and retention efforts with our local and regional partners. City Council has provided additional funding for our Development Department to attract new companies to our area. We have partnered with groups like Columbus 2020 and the Chamber to promote the City to potential businesses. Just as important as bringing more businesses to Columbus is investing in our quality of life by providing parks, green spaces and bike trails so potential employers recognize the value of living in a safe, healthy city.
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: In 2011, we invested historic capital in basic city infrastructure like roads and sidewalks. This kind of investment allows us to create more walkable, livable neighborhoods in our downtown and our core city communities. It also creates a safer environment for young professionals and families who want to call downtown home. New amenities like the Scioto Mile and Columbus Commons make downtown living more vibrant and exciting. As we move forward, I will advocate for neighborhood reinvestment throughout our city – making the central city an attractive and inviting place to call home.
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: We are investing in strong neighborhoods for our families, spending 70% of our budget on safety. Thanks to our long-term efforts, violent crime in Columbus has dropped 15% and property crime is down 19% in the last decade according to FBI crime reporting information. In 2011, the Columbus will hire nearly 200 police and fire recruits to keep pace with the losses in personnel caused in part by a state-mandated retirement program. We are also investing in innovative force multipliers like neighborhood safety cameras in areas where the community supports the tool.
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: I was extremely disappointed by the Kasich Administration’s decision to scuttle the 3-C rail plan. While the plan wasn’t perfect, it offered a new opportunity for growth in Central Ohio and beyond. Here at home, I’m encouraged by the Columbus communities’ involvement with COTA. By asking COTA to think big, I believe we can harness the economic power of High and Broad, while improving the mass transit experience with new bus shelters, better routes and new ideas like a user- and consumer-friendly central transit terminal.
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: I’m proud of the work we’ve done to support small business growth in Columbus. From our investments with ECDI and CCDC to our ongoing efforts to streamline business at City Hall, we are continually investing in the cornerstone of our economy. We have more work to do. My colleagues and I will be taking a fresh look at the opportunities and obstacles to small business growth in Columbus. Especially during down economic times, that must include efforts to increase access to capital for new and expanding businesses. We also have to take a look at the quality of life issues that can harm business growth – which is why I’m proud to join with Councilmember Zach Klein on a new anti-graffiti initiative for Columbus.
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: I’m excited about the role the City of Columbus has played in creating an environment that encourages tech investment in our city. We have been a strong supporter of TechColumbus, joining local partners like OSU and Battelle to leverage private venture capital in our city. Like any industry, tech thrives in a community known for its safe, strong neighborhoods. That’s part of the reason we’ve seen such a dramatic increase in technology investment here in Central Ohio.
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: The agreement reached by the City, Franklin County, State of Ohio, Franklin County Convention Facilities Authority and the private sector will help protect thousands of current and future jobs in the Arena District. This is especially important at a time when state and national unemployment numbers continue to be too high. The agreement will also allow the Arena District to continue to be one of the premier entertainment districts in the country and a model for economic development in other cities.
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: Casino revenue dollars should be used to protect jobs, promote public safety and provide vital City services. To protect jobs, City Council is prepared to partner with the county, state and private industry by investing a portion of city casino revenue in the economic viability of the Arena District.
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: Like all families, young professionals want safe neighborhoods, great amenities and successful schools. At City Council, we will continue our efforts to increase neighborhood safety through neighborhood safety grants and aggressive action on vacant and abandoned housing. Our wealth of parks, bike paths and local retail provide a great mix of amenities for any family. While our schools have made progress in recent years, we must continue to encourage the Columbus City Schools board and administration to focus on excellence for every child. At the City, we will do our part with funding for rec centers, the summer APPS youth program, and stepped-up cooperation to enforce truancy laws and curfews to keep kids safe and learning.
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 believe we are investing in the infrastructure and improvements needed to foster success. A key piece will be continued funding to aggressively address vacant and abandoned housing, as well as quality of life issues like graffiti removal, sidewalks and streets. We can do more, especially as we seek to streamline doing business with the city.
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: I am proudly voting no on issue 2. The City of Columbus has worked with public sector unions representing Columbus employees in a collaborative manner to craft responsible contracts that provide high quality city services at a reasonable cost for the taxpayers. We have reached contract agreements in professional discussions without creating an adversarial or hostile working relationship between the two sides. Unlike the Columbus City Council, leaders in the statehouse have chosen to paint public employees as the reason for their budget problems in an attempt to curtail collective bargaining rights. This is unfortunate and I believe, in the long run, will lower the quality of public sector services, adversely affect emergency services, and place workers at risk for injury or death.
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: City Council, along with Mayor Coleman, is empanelling a committee to study all other non-income tax revenue streams, including the bed tax and casino dollars, to help determine where the greatest needs are in our community and how those dollars should be best spent. I believe that is the best forum to consider investments in the arts and other vital local issues.
Q: Please summarize in one sentence why our readers should vote for you in November.
A: I would appreciate the support of the voters because I have proven leadership with more than twenty years of addressing the challenges of individuals in the food lines while remaining focused on the bottom line, and I will continue strong and effective leadership for people of our great city.
More information can be found online at www.MillsForColumbus.com.