COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Sparkle Clark was born and raised in Columbia, and attended the University of South Carolina. She has worked for the U.S. Postal Service for 28 years.
Clark is a past co-chair of the South Carolina Gay and Lesbian Pride Movement, and a member of the Audubon Society and the SC Wildlife Federation. She is also an avid birdwatcher and nature photographer.
Name: Sparkle Clark
Education: Dreher High School. USC graduate. Limestone College graduate.
Profession: Civil Servant. Customer Service, USPS
Marital status/children: Single, no children
Political experience: I worked with the Tom Turnipseed for Attorney General campaign. GLBT rights activist. Served in the Student Senate at USC for two terms.
Hobbies: BIrding. Nature photographer.
Favorite food: Anything that doesn't contain meat.
Pets: Gif, my elderly little mixed-breed dog that I still think of as a puppy. Pandie and Callie, my little feline darlings. All rescued. This past year I lost my elderly Maggie and Khatmah, felines that acted like mothers to Pandie and Callie.
QUESTIONS (word limit per answer: 300 words)
Q: Why are you running for mayor?
I am running to draw attention to the needs of Columbia's working class, to draw them into the conversation, to explore good governance on all levels and in ways taxpayers can understand. I am running in support of those areas of our government that are working to the benefit of Columbia residents, businesses and communities, and to seek solutions to those areas of government that have failed us. I am running in support of city workers and first-responders whose contributions to the city are innumerable, though often given short shrift. I am running to insure Columbia returns to financial integrity while providing quality services to all its citizens. I am running to insure governance is open, accessible and honest. I am running to enhance those things that make Columbia great-- our rivers and wildlife, our parks, our arts community and our institutions--and to insure that as Columbia grows responsibly in the 21st Century.
Q: What is the most important issue facing Columbia right now? How do you intend to address it?
Columbia's most pressing issue is its integrity. We have witnessed over the past few years a loss of trust in the city's handling of its finances, charges of influence-peddling by elected officials, lax enforcement of city codes, and limited access to government by taxpayers. As mayor, I will challenge the culture of the past by initiating open governance, insuring stringent hiring practices, and insuring maintenance and property codes are enforced across the board. Finally, I will work with staff and elected officials to eliminate the practices of influence that have stifled the operations of city departments and will insure that the City Manager's office is returned to its position as sole overseer of administrative operations for the city.
Q: What mistake in your life do you hope others, especially young people, will learn from?
Stay in college. I returned to USC and Limestone as an older student while working.
Q: In 2009, the City of Columbia made millions of dollars in cuts to both the police and fire departments. If elected, would you work to restore those jobs or are the departments fully equipped to keep the city safe as they are staffed currently?
I would first initiate a comprehensive audit of police and fire departments to determine necessary levels of services and personnel needed to best fulfill the needs of the city. Following recommendations by police and fire as well as the City Manager, if it is determined essential service positions are lacking, I will initiate efforts to find resources to restore those jobs and equipment.
Q: (Viewer submitted) Earlier this month, there were several reports that the City of Columbia and Richland County Unified Fire Service contract might be in jeopardy. However, an independent study conducted by the University of South Carolina titled, "The impact of improved public protection classification ratings on homeowners' insurance rates in Richland County," has shown that taxpayers save upwards of $5.5 million annually due to lower homeowner's insurance rates each and every year as a result of having the city and county fire service combined. Do you support that the city and county work to continue this public safety agreement?
Absolutely. This is one of the best investments we can make in our community. Consolidating city and county services makes sense in many areas and this is certainly one of them.
Q: What is your detailed plan to make Columbia a safer place to live? Give specifics. Where can we improve? Where are we already strong in public safety?
Extending the Fire Service contract that we have with the County to include EMS workers. Increasing the gang unit of the police force from one officer to as many as we need in areas of high gang activity.
Balancing the budget to increase funding for state-of-the art GPS devices and radio dispatch equipment. Exploring a plan to consolidate some police units with the county. The savings of this merger would
then be reinvested into our fire and police departments to make sure both are fully-funded. Revive the neighborhood "Crime Watch" program and add additional emergency phones in our parks.
Q: (Viewer submitted) Over the past several years, the city has lost jobs due to several companies moving to its neighboring communities. What is your plan to retain the existing employment opportunities and expand upon them?
Businesses move where they get better services by the local government, optimum tax incentives and higher property values. Working with Columbia's development services offices, I will initiate an audit of those services to determine where we are weak and how those services can be improved. We will continue the efforts by the city to enhance our knowledge-based economy which will further attract high tech industry to the Midlands. In addition, I will work with Columbia business and tourism industries to further create an environment that enhances job growth.
Q: What will you do to balance preservation with progress in Columbia's historic business district and neighborhoods?
Researching the Green models of other cities to update our zoning ordinances. Facade grant money is available to businesses. The Columbia Development Corporation did an outstanding job in having Publix blend into the historic Vista district. I would like more historic trees to be saved as well.
Q: What commitment are you willing to make to the people of Columbia on reviewing and balancing the finances of the city under your watch?
110% commitment. The next few years of getting out of the mess of mismanaged funds is hindering our forward progress. Treading water will not ever be an option under my watch.
I will be by the City Manager's side day-in and day-out until I am confident that our plan for the future of Columbia is in concert with the budget. If we have to start with scratch, then so be it.
Priorities must be set and goals need to be measured. I will be there every line of the way.
Q: Columbia's arts groups are desperate for additional city funding. Would you support increasing the hospitality tax to help these groups?
We are in a financial crisis. Yet, the arts are essential to the quality of life in the city as well as to the growth of our overall economy. Those businesses (hotels, restaurants, bars, etc.) most benefit and are challenged by additional taxes. A review of their needs is first and foremost and will be the basis for any decision to increase hospitality tax. One thing is certain, if H-Tax is raised by the State, there will be NO earmarks to divert these funds to any other department or service, and funds will be used only to benefit Columbia's cultural assets.
Q: How do you plan to keep the CMTRA funded and solvent in the coming years? Does it include increasing ridership among young professionals?
Marketing is the key to improving the CMRTA. We have been terribly short-sighted in creating an environment that will encourage ridership. Yet, with so many young professionals coming to our community from throughout the US, as well as our need to attract business development in the Midlands, a viable transportation system is crucial. My first order of business in this regard will be to provide incentives to city employees to use the bus system during the week, when possible, and to challenge Midlands-area businesses to do likewise.
Q: Your potential successor served more than 20 years as mayor. Should there be term limits for the position? Why or why not?
Let the people decide. You can't serve if you aren't voted in.
Q: Do you support a plan to give Columbia a strong mayor government? Should the mayor have more power and what good would it do for the city?
I will be a strong leader in any form of government. More power is not necessary if you know how to lead.
Q: What is your plan to reduce crime and increase confidence in the City of Columbia Police Department?
I already have confidence in our police department with Chief Carter as their leader. Again, budgeting is the key so that funds for training and equipment are available. The officer assigned to each neighborhood has been a great asset in reducing crime. As stated earlier, an increase in our gang task force is needed. Neighborhood "Crime Watch" revitalization would also benefit us.
When hybrid vehicles are integrated into our police fleet, I want to have more frequent patrolling of neighborhoods.
Q: (Viewer submitted) How would you change the city's culture of spending and prioritize projects? How would you change this spending culture on all levels of city government?
By saying "no" to what has not been budgeted. Again, a budget that correlates with our plans and goals is essential. Frequent reviews of our projected revenues and spending is the key. Prioritizing will be the basis for my review with the City Manager. Safety is always first. From there we work downward.
Q: Do you support investing more money into the revitalization of the North Main Street corridor? Why or why not?
Of course. North Columbia represents nearly 1/3 of the City of Columbia and its 40,000 residents contribute daily to our overall economy. Though representing Columbia's lowest-income residents, home-ownership in North Columbia is over 50%, second only to District IV. The corridor is a gateway to our city from all points north and should be a welcoming--as well as a commercially-viable--gateway to visitors, commuters and residents. By enhancing the commercial corridors in North Columbia, the standard of living in this area will also be enhanced. A win-win for everyone.
Q: What's the best thing about living in Columbia?