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Q&A: Council President Shannon Hardin

Taijuan Moorman Taijuan Moorman Q&A: Council President Shannon HardinPhoto courtesy of Shannon G. Hardin for Columbus City Council.
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Columbus City Council President Shannon Hardin is up for reelection on Tuesday, Nov. 2.

Earlier this year, the departure of councilmembers Priscilla Tyson and Mitchell Brown surprised many residents, and made for a confusing time in which it was unclear who would be on the ballot, as both made announcements after the filing deadline for the primary election. Regardless of the results of Tuesday’s election, there will be new faces on council, and if re-elected, Council President Hardin will be the longest sitting member.

Like many government leaders, the last 20 months have presented significant challenges for Columbus city leaders, with a pandemic, calls for police reform and racial justice. President Hardin has been embroiled in many of those conversations, helping present council’s Reimagining Public Safety initiative and bring forward the city’s first civilian review board, to overseeing pandemic recovery efforts, and making attempts to address the city’s rise in crime, among other efforts. Council President Hardin has also welcomed a new baby, who also attended our interview as he discussed priorities, how he’s approaching being the newly veteran member of council and what will be different going into another term on council.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Columbus Underground: First off, going into reelection, what are your main priorities?

Council President Shannon Hardin: Columbus is a city that’s growing. We’re going to add 500,000 to a million people over the next 20 years. Now we say that it’s not the decisions that we made in the last seven years that I’ve been on council that has shaped the city we live in, it’s the decisions of folks 20 years ago. So I feel it’s a real responsibility for us as leaders and those who want to be leaders in this time period to really be thoughtful about the city, how we can make the city of Columbus going forward more equitable and better for all of our residents. And so priorities are around, making sure that there’s a transit system that serves everyone. We cannot add that many people to Columbus and not change the way that we do transit mobility here in the city. It’s a conversation around land-use policies and densification and corridors, and how we put those transit corridors in places that serve people. The fact that takes two to two and a half hours for low-income workers to get from the warehouse to their house, that’s a dignity issue that we all have to solve, and by investing in a transit system that serves everyone.

It will be good for people but it’ll be good for our community. It’ll be good for housing and good for our economy. So building a transit system is a top priority for me, having that conversation I think we’re well on our way.

But the other [priority] that is really important to me is making sure that everybody in our community has the opportunity to be skilled and get some type of a credential so they can get some of these jobs that are out here. The new economic development is people development. Companies don’t go to places now just because there’s an incentive or just because [of] some infrastructure that’s put in, they go where there’s a pipeline of people that can take these jobs. And so for us to really be competitive with these other cities that we always compare ourselves to, we have to do a better job of making sure that our people that live here have access to apprenticeships, have access to two-year and four-year colleges credentials, so I’m really going to be leaning into that and the universality of that.

And then the other issue for me, that I think is important is obviously the housing issue. We, in our region, create 15,000 jobs a year. You know how many units we build? 5,000, which means every year, we’re creating a bigger and bigger gap, which means that when product is low, the prices go up. So it’s just exacerbating our affordable housing issue. And so we have to use several different tools in our toolbox to really address affordable housing, land use. Our Land Bank and Land Trust are one opportunity to keep affordability in gentrifying neighborhoods. Incentivizes for lower affordability—60% and 50% average medium income—is very important from the city’s perspective to encourage that type of development, but also being creative about some other financing tools, and making sure that we as a city aren’t making it so onerous in terms of bureaucracy and zoning that nothing gets built.

And then lastly I will acknowledge that the last several months we have seen crime statistics like we’ve seen in our city for a very long time, maybe ever. But I think it’s really important, one, to contextualize that crime and contextualize how we got here. We collectively have gone through the most challenging time in American history, at least for 100 years, where we had to…close school, we had to close church, and we had to close recreation centers. We told folks you can’t be around each other. We had to close all the organizations that touched folks. So what do you expect for folks who were already on the edge, who had to worry about food, and had to worry about lights being turned on, and had to worry about a roof over their head, and then had all of those structures taken away from them? What did we think was gonna happen? It was going to have an outcome, and so I think that is in part what we’re seeing.

Now I think that it’s on all of us. It’s on me as a leader. I take safety as my top priority, has to be as a leader. We have made investments in reform because you can’t have safety unless you have true community and police relations and trust. We did not have that I think prior to last year. We saw it with the protests, we saw it when we realized that we’re the largest city in the country without a police oversight and accountability civilian review board. I think it’s a step in the right direction in rebuilding that trust between the community. But also, we brought in a new police chief. I think that that has taken a huge step forward in changing the culture of the department and building trust with the community.

This thing about the motorbikes and the ATVs going through our streets, we’ve never seen that before. And it really took over neighborhoods. So council raised the penalties for that, and now we’ve kind of gotten rid of that. We have invested nearly $25 million over the last several months in youth programming, we told anybody who would raise their hand and said they would work with our young people that we would give them resources to do so. None of those things flip the switch, because we didn’t flip the switch to get here, but I think they all build towards us getting to our new normal and getting to a safer Columbus. And so that’s my commitment. It’s going to be for everybody to play their role as we get our institutions back up. But it’s something that I’m 100% committed to.

CU: With councilmember Tyson leaving, you will now be the veteran council member. Does that signal a change in your role or your approach to leading council?

SH: I feel a responsibility not just because we have new members coming on, but I feel a responsibility because we’re about to go through a lot of change as it pertains to the structure of city council. I feel I have a specific responsibility to get our community there. As we go from seven council members to nine council members, as we change from a purely at large to this at large district model. I’ve always said…we don’t need people to agree with all of our policy decisions but they have to [be for] our process. And so for the next two years of my leadership, I will really be focused on the process, and making sure that the new members understand and are able to express themselves and lead, but also making sure that we are moving through…this transition in a open and transparent and credible way.

CU: In that same line of thinking—we’ll have new council members regardless of the results of Tuesday’s election. So can you talk to me about having fresh perspectives on council?

SH: I believe that Nick Bankston and Lourdes Barroso de Padilla are the future of the Democratic Party. They are alike but very different. They bring energy, but they bring a very progressive mindset, the understanding and layers over partnership as a way to get to the end goal. I think that they are outspoken. I think that it will be, and what’s something that I’ve been proud about in my leadership as council president, is that we disagree, but we do it in a way that’s not disagreeable. We have no votes all the time, and before I was council president, the council president didn’t bring votes to the floor that didn’t have unanimous support. I think it’s important that folks see us disagreeing, see us still being collegial after a disagreement, see us having the debate. And I think that Nick and Lourdes will be amazing at that—standing up for people and their values, but also working with the council as a whole and the community as a whole. I’d be remiss not to say one of the things that I would be most proud of, if elected, Lourdes Barroso de Padilla would be the first Latina elected to Columbus City Council. And Nick, Lourdes, and I are all three Columbus City School kids. I’m really proud of them.

CU: Is there anything that you would like to do differently going into a new term?

SH: So I think something that I guess I will lean into doing more of…I think the virtual meetings, the ability to virtually engage with folks expanded who and how many folks we were able to talk to. And so even as we come out of the virtual mindset that we had to do it that way, I think keeping that component, for instance, you don’t have to physically come down to council anymore to testify. Like, that’s crazy. That’s exciting to me, because it was always hard for a single mom to get off work. Like who really was gonna come down at five o’clock, sitting on these hard seats, and weigh in, except for folks who had the privilege and the time to do so? And so, that’s something that I will make sure stays at council, because we’ve seen our participation just increase.

CU: Anything you’d like to add?

SH: These are typically low turnout elections, so the more that we can put attention to the cycle, in general, the better. This is the thing—last year during the protests, we had record levels of participation in council. When we put forward our police reform package, I told my staff and I told the council members, we got to be radically transparent because we have so many new people who are new to the process, so they are not going to be okay and they’re not even going to understand sending it to a committee, and waiting eight months, and having the committee come back. We need that level of participation at the voting booth. So folks have to remember that those decisions back then and us being the ones that made those decisions last July was out of an election in November, just like this. And I would just really encourage folks to come out to vote and to engage in this cycle. We have judges on the ballot, these judges are important for the people [who] look like me. Do they have the values or not of folks out of this community? These are the questions that we should all be asking as somebody is voting.

For more information, visit shannonhardin.com.

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