By Vanessa Copeland
Anyone who hasn’t been living in a cave for the last 6 months knows that the pandemic moved the Joplin City Council election from April 7th to June 2nd.
There have been several public forums and other candidate spotlights throughout the year. However, with the election just days away, I wanted to give a refresher on two female candidates running for 4-year General Council Seats: Christina Williams and Shawna Ackerson. Voters will be able to select two of four candidates for the 4-year general seat. Below is a brief Q&A with the candidates so you can learn more about them in time for your decision on Tuesday.
Please give us a brief personal background.
I am Christina Williams, a mom of three, grandmother to one baby girl, and wife to the absolute best man ever, Samuel Wimsett. I am a designer for CGA Architects and I have the incredible honor of working on projects that literally change the landscape of Joplin and quality of life for its citizens.
I’m known for “getting things done” and for my creative and pragmatic approach to solving problems, usually through design. I have been involved in numerous projects and initiatives that have made a difference for Joplin. Whether it’s championing curbside recycling or riding a bike 600 miles to raise awareness for victims of sexual abuse or renovating a 130-year-old house on the edge of Murphysburg or raising $30,000 in two months to make sure every kindergartner in Joplin Schools gets the opportunity to learn to ride a bike… when I set my sights on a problem, I will find a way to fix it.
Like many people born here in Southwest Missouri, I never intended to stay and make a life here. I put myself through college as a single mom and wanted desperately to provide a good life for my child and to make him proud. I aspired to make the world a better place and do big things and I thought I needed to do that from some place, well, bigger. But, once I started getting involved in this community, I realized that making the world a better place starts right where you are, wherever you are.
I’m excited to take this huge step to make Joplin a better place. You can trust that I will listen, ask questions others will be afraid to ask, consider the needs of ALL citizens (not just the loudest), and make decisions that improve quality of life by bringing equity and access for ALL.
As a mother to two boys, I have a young family, which keeps me vested in this community. I spent 18-years in retail, customer service and public relations. I’ve worked from the front lines all the way up to management. This career provides me with skills and insights I believe shall be useful at the council table, in serving the public, and in dealing with our neighboring municipalities. I’ve spent much of my time for years now, especially after the big tornado, volunteering with our many local non-profits. And perhaps most important, I care about this city and where it is headed.
Please tell us why you are running for City Council.
My interest in becoming a council member is the same for every position I have taken in my career and volunteering – and that is the opportunity to do meaningful work. I lead by example and want to teach my children that anyone can make a difference when we live to help others. I am running for council to ensure that voters have qualified and hardworking candidates to choose from with a history of leadership in impactful projects.
I believe change is in order. I see this real need for fresh ideas in our city. I’m fed up with crime and the social problems it breeds. I am ashamed to live in a city that is associated with high levels of crime and drugs. I want our city to be a place where I am confident our kids can grow up safe. Then, I want those kids to want to raise their own families here. I want to feel safe in growing old here. I believe by getting elected for city council that I will be able to entertain ideas and implement policies to make Joplin that place! There are other ancillary reasons, but this seems to be the issue that keeps coming back to me.
What are some things you hope to achieve if elected?
- Rebuilding citizen trust with city leadership through continued transparency, including citizen input and holistic decision-making processes.
- Ensuring that our new city manager gets to know our city well and has a solid start to the new position by helping to introduce him to all the facets of our people, history, goals for the future, and emphasize our vision of a livable city.
- Recruitment and retention of a workforce capable of filling the jobs we have open and future jobs to come by improving education offerings offered in Joplin to keep more students at school here. Once they leave, it’s harder to get them back.
- Creating quality of life amenities in Joplin that enhance the lives of current residents, bring equity to all demographics, and attract new talent to become residents here.
- Renewal of the Parks and Stormwater tax and Capital Improvements Tax and utilizing public input to prioritize projects paid for by those revenue sources.
Our residents seem to be willing to travel to other cities (Springfield, Tulsa, Northwest Arkansas) for entertainment, dining, and travel options. I want to see more of those dollars spent here. I want us to develop options along those fronts that are more appealing to our residents.
- I think we need to offer more civic events to get people moving around. Boomtown Days, 4th of July celebrations, Christmas tree lighting ceremonies, Slide the City, a monthly (or perhaps weekly) Food Truck Day are just some events that can increase community foot traffic to specific areas.
- I’d like to see more career options available for our local educated workforce. We have some fine higher learning institutions in this area. Unfortunately it appears our graduates often feel compelled to take those educations to bigger cities. The need to attract business to Joplin should always be a priority for the Council. I’d like to focus our effort toward tech companies seeking University grads to help them grow. Long have we been known for our Midwest work ethic and can-do attitude. It’s time to expand our reputation beyond manual labor.
- I want more small businesses to succeed in our town. We should make it a less daunting task for those with a passion to start a small business in Joplin. Once we’ve got them, I want us to offer support to those businesses to help them achieve a higher profile within the community so they can grow with us.
- I’d like us to better leverage some of the city’s assets, such as our historical buildings (like Memorial Hall). Repurposing these older buildings into trendy apartments or commercial properties is a thought.
- Similarly, I want us to come up with creative or alternative ways to utilize our other properties and land. For example, we could offer up vacant lots to create community gardens or vineyards.
All these things are important, but safe neighborhoods are my top priority. I want us to make sure our firefighters and police officers are getting fair wages and that we recruit and retain the highest quality candidates. Further, we need to furnish them with the appropriate resources and supplies they need to keep our community safe.
There have been several improvements to the downtown area over the last few years. Do you think these changes have had a positive impact on the city? Would you consider downtown as healthy and successful? What additional changes do you hope to see? How do you anticipate the quarantine to affect local businesses?
Would you consider downtown as healthy and successful?
Joplin’s downtown is a remarkable urban blight recovery story and really something to be proud of. We have many people to thank for their years of hard work to transform blighted buildings into what downtown is today. It’s a recovery that should remain an ongoing effort. To continue its progress, COVID-19 recovery, and grow its success, I think we could do a better job of promoting our downtown as a destination to non-residents that visit Joplin for work, restaurants, shopping, and services. The Downtown Joplin Alliance and Chamber of Commerce are doing an incredible job of creating a sense of place that is being marketed to our region and beyond.
What additional changes do you hope to see?
I hope to see a shift toward more positive attitudes and perceptions of our city and downtown core. I’m sure I am not alone in the fatigue of misinformation and disregard of facts on social media. So many people have perceptions of Joplin that are outdated, unfounded, or simply biased – for example, “there’s no parking downtown” – wrong. Our citizens should take pride in our city because we choose to live here and we should choose to step up and help make things better rather than complain about its faults.
Joplin has so much to offer already, but imagine what our city could be if we all chose to be less passive, more determined, more innovative, more grateful, and more caring. A city backed by people who care naturally becomes stronger and healthier.
How do you anticipate the quarantine to affect local businesses?
It’s hard to anticipate what the long-term effects of the stay at home orders and reopening process will be. We are already seeing our locally owned restaurants and retail shops struggle as they navigate this new normal. They’ve had to contract their business, shut them down, reopen at only 25% capacity, and wait for the next step of increased capacity. Watching them figure out how to stay relevant through social media and adapt their services to online, curbside, or other creative methods has been incredibly impressive to watch.
Many people have compared this experience to the time shortly after the 2011 tornado, and I agree that much of it feels the same: we have grieved the loss of our “normal”, feared for the safety of mankind, come together – while apart – for the greater good. Because of our past record of resilience, I believe that Joplin will come back as strong as before.
That’s a lot of information. I like that we have some great dining and entertainment options in the downtown area. My husband loves Carmines and how it has evolved. I am really enjoying Bookhouse Cinema and the cultural shift it has offered the area. These are but two examples of positive impact on the city. I’m excited to see Missouri Southern moving into our old public library location. I feel it will be beneficial to the area as it will become a daily destination for young, tech savvy students. I’m hopeful we will see trendy businesses popping up to cater to the student population. As I’ve mentioned before, I would like us to have more options for our university students and grads to spend their recreation time and money in our town instead of feeling the need to travel elsewhere.
As for additional changes I hope to see: Downtown is currently not a destination for most of us. I would love to see a broader array of businesses that operate at night. I want to see Downtown brightly lit and bustling with activity. We’ve got a seemingly endless supply of casinos attracting our residents to their bright lights. I want that kind of traffic here. Downtown is an amazing space. The aesthetic is unique. It can be such a showpiece for our city!
The quarantine? Seems my crystal ball is busted. This particular situation is certainly unprecedented. I personally feel the aftermath might follow similar paths of previous reality-altering moments in our history. There will be some businesses that will not make it as our economy slowly comes back up to speed. I certainly empathize and want to be able to offer support services for these small businesses to help them stick it out. What kind of support? How long? I wish I could say.
What do you see as the most pressing issue for our city right now and how do you plan to address it?
Economic recovery from COVID-19 related issues will be the most pressing issue, yet it is still an evolving situation and the scope of the problems will take an unforeseen amount of time to fully define. The city’s sales tax revenue has already taken a hit and we don’t know how long that downward trend will continue. As we reopen our businesses, hopefully that slow rebound, and being a regional hub for commerce, will help us avoid long-term financial issues caused by the reduction in revenue
COVID-19 certainly stole this Spring, eh? I think our most pressing issue for our city right now, because of the quarantine, is we need to help our small businesses get back on their feet. We need to make sure they survive this. I would like to see us helping them with any kind of relief money and assistance that we can. I think we need to make sure that the community will get behind our small businesses and support them as well.
If elected, what are some steps you plan to take to put Joplin on better financial footing?
Holistic decision-making process for infrastructure expansion and maintenance, and implementation of a complete streets ordinance to revamp the infrastructure we have to better meet the transportation needs of our community while reducing maintenance costs.
Prioritization of projects that improve quality of life for our current and future citizens which in turn will provide economic development benefits and boost tax revenue for the city.
Collaboration with local and regional entities with common goals, nonprofits such as One Joplin for example, to ease the burden on city resources.
I want us to increase local spending on civic events. Our city needs to have more traffic-generating events, such as those I mentioned earlier. Boomtown Days, Independence Day celebrations, tree lighting ceremonies, Slide the City, Food Truck Day events would attract more revenue to our city and help it to thrive. I’d want to comb through our budget and make cuts where necessary and make sure we are using our city assets to their full advantage. We need our city to live comfortably in our budget – not poorly or extravagantly.
What are some of your favorite places to spend time in Joplin?
My favorite place in Joplin is my home and neighborhood. Our neighbors are amazing and my children play with their best friends down the street. We are proud to have restored a piece of Joplin’s destroyed habitat with over 40 trees and a rain garden, and we choose to live sustainably with features such as solar panels and high efficiency systems. We have the luxury of bike lanes on 26th Street that lead to Mercy and Cunningham Parks and connect to the Mohaska Trail, and I can easily ride my bike to work downtown and to my son’s elementary school.
Other favorite places to spend time in Joplin are: my job at Corner Greer Architects, Mercy Park, Wildcat Glades Trails, Empire Market, the Saturday bread line at Forest + Field Bakery, and everywhere downtown.
I still love the Falls. It is truly unique to Joplin. Cunningham Park is just a beautiful, poignant memorial. Spiva Arts Gallery is shamefully overlooked by much of our community. The Bookhouse experience has quickly grown on me. And I still dig walking amongst the throng of pedestrians downtown during Third Thursday.
What message do you have for young women who wish to make a difference in their community?
First, be kind to each other. It truly makes all the difference. Women have a terrible history of tearing each other down through jealousy, arrogance, insecurity, and emotional reactions we can’t even define. We must fight against those natural tendencies and work together – help each other. When we view each other as teammates instead of competition, then the world around us opens up to change, and hopefully the next generation of young women will eradicate that behavior.
Second, visualize what you want to achieve. See it, think it, believe it, write it down, open yourself up to possibility, and don’t run away when it finds you. Too many girls grow up without even realizing they have the power to change their path. They enter adulthood already settling for status quo expectations and accepting the value and attention of men as their identity. YOU are the boss of your own life. If you want something more, surround yourself with people who believe in you and support you in achieving the life you choose, whatever that may be. If we all took control of our own destinies, what an amazing community full of strong, successful women this would be.
Third, happiness is a choice. No external influence can give you true happiness, it must come from inside you. If you are unhappy, remove the negative forces from your life – walk away, shut down the social media, change your perspective, whatever it takes. You deserve better, so choose better. One of my very favorite quotes speaks to me about how changing your attitude can change everything: “Adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered.” -G.K. Chesteron. I choose to see every challenge that comes my way as an adventure, and that makes me really happy.
(Disclaimer: I fully understand that depression and mental illness plays a factor on happiness and I do not believe that simply choosing to be happy can erase symptoms of depression.)
Women are one of the most powerful investments we can make in building a better future.
Our lives have equal value. It is not just a principle; it’s a strategy. We can create all kinds of new tools. But if we’re not moving toward equality, we’re not really changing the world. We’re just rearranging it.
When women achieve the same status as men, families and societies thrive. Clearly, gender equality unleashes our potential as women. But truly, species potential can only be defined by equality. And this is the true secret of investing in women. Promoting gender equality is not only our responsibility as women – it is incumbent upon us all.
Passion changes the world. Always has, always will. If you find yourself passionate about something, be fierce and do it! Never be afraid to step out of your comfort zone. Comfort is just another word for complacency. You never know when another woman may be looking up to you and watching you take that leap of faith. When others see that leap; when they feel that passion; you will find support from sources you never imagined. I’m living that right now.
Find other young women to mentor. Find that strong leading woman to follow. Our limits will only be expanded when we push them together. Break our barriers and define the future of our species!
Visit https://www.fourstateshomepage.com/meet-the-joplin-city-council-candidates/ for information on all Joplin City Council Candidates for the June 2nd election.