Columbia mayor opens up before "State of City" address

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin will give an update on the state of the city Tuesday.

But before his official address, he sat down for a one-on-one with WIS News 10's Judi Gatson.

He talked about his biggest accomplishment so far, his biggest frustration and his top priority moving forward. He also explained that he plans to lead the way in resolving an issue that has created controversy for years.

"People really don't care what you have to say if they think you're being wasteful with their money," stated Mayor Benjamin
He said it's his single biggest accomplishment. "I take a great deal of pride in the fact that many folks said it couldn't be done," he continued, "That six months into the year we're over $4 million under budget."
Benjamin said getting the money right is job one, but he also touted other achievements - like helping to recruit AQT and its 1,000 new jobs to the Midlands.
There's more transparency in city government. Council meetings are now held at night, allowing more people to attend, and they will soon be streamed live online.
Benjamin said he's delivered on the promise of developing regionalism by bringing mayors and county leaders together from all over the Midlands to address issues from air quality to developing a strong, viable airport. "But doing it in a way, recognizing that people don't want 10 different governments spending 10 different dollars going in 10 different directions," he explained "On the major issues facing this region, we can spend $10 going in one direction and get $100 impact."
But what about one of his biggest promises?  While  campaigning, Mayor Benjamin pledged not to balance the city budget on the backs of public safety workers. "Well, I'll tell you, we're doing a top to bottom review of the police department as we speak," he expressed, "I'm a big believer that we've got to invest in public safety. I believe we should increase public safety funding."
Nevertheless, his top priority right now is fixing a problem that threatens to cripple the city. "The busses will not shut down," Mayor Benjamin stated, "They will not shut down on my watch."
He's promising a complete overhaul that, in his words, will deliver a world class mass transit system. He also plans to have a road map on how to get there by this spring. "So important that people understand that we're not talking about the same old transit system," he said, "We're talking about fundamentally transforming the way that we look at public transportation here in the Midlands, creating a system that people want to ride."
In the months to come, you can also expect the mayor to confront an issue that has divided this community along racial and political lines for years, the confederate flag. "Absolutely, I think it affects the economic development in the city and in the state overall," claimed Mayor Benjamin, "Whether it be NCAA tournaments or conferences that will just routinely by-pass our state because of the flag or because of the economic sanctions called for by the NAACP, I'd love to see the flag go away."

It could be one of his biggest battles, but he said people didn't elect him to office to take the easy way out. "We're proving to the people that we're going to take on the big issues," he said, "We're gonna discuss them vigorously. Sometimes the discussion won't be pleasant, won't be easy, but we're gonna resolve them."

To see Gatson's entire interview with Mayor Benjamin, click above.

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