Opponent: Tristan Asbury
Residence: Rural Boone County
Occupation: Northern District Boone County commissioner
Education: Undergraduate and law degrees from University of Missouri
Previous political experience: Elected to commission in 2012 and 2016
Family: Father Ian Thompson, mother Marjorie Dale, brother Ian Thompson
How would you assess the county’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic?
I think the county has done really, really well. You know, from the very beginning, I was involved, for instance, in a collaborative meeting among all of these big stakeholders, the health care professionals in the community, from Boone Hospital, to the University Hospital, to the VA hospital, with all of the EMS folks with all of the law enforcement folks with everybody that really had a role in terms of those essential services. So from the very beginning, there was a very collaborative approach to say, how do we deal with this truly novel, coronavirus? And what does it mean for our community?
And thereafter, as things developed, and even in the very first week or so as we were trying to get a handle on it, the county and the city and all of the businesses involved really came together and said, "What ... does a health order look like?" Right? Because we have to say, how do we balance the two needs, because we know that one of the needs is to keep our community healthy enough to be able to have an economy, right? If your people are not healthy, you're not going to have a healthy economy. So that was the balance that was struck from the very beginning, even in that initial health order to try to see how that would work.
And then the other piece of that was to continue to bring into our fold, into our collective knowledge, the information from various sources. I'm on one of the big boards at the National Association of Counties. So I was getting a lot of information from NACO, that I then turned around and spread to the people that I'm in contact with. So that we had that information. NACO in turn was involved with the Department of Treasury. So I was on conference calls with Treasury. So we were really trying to keep up with everything that was happening on the funding side, plus everything that was happening as we learned more and more about this novel virus.
Some legislators have suggested a bill to put health order power in the hands of county commissioners. Would you support such a change?
I would not.
This is not a new kind of bill that's been proposed. This is the same kind of thing that's happened when there have been other public health issues before our communities. And people start saying, "Well, gee, why are we giving that that decision-making authority to someone who has the subject matter expertise, rather than a politician?" To me, you know, if we've done the right decision in hiring someone with the subject matter expertise, then that's the person we need to listen to.
I keep thinking about my mom's family in rural Alabama. She was from a very, very rural part of Alabama. And in that county, they didn't have the kind of protections we have here with a health department that has a broad reach, not too broad, but a broad reach into various aspects of our community. In one of my cousin's houses, for instance, in that rural community in Alabama, I looked out the back window of the house and I said, "What's that? What's that pipe doing that goes out in your backyard?" Well, that was the effluent, that was sewage, raw sewage that was going out into the backyard. That's the kind of thing that a public health department can help to regulate. And in my estimation, that's the kind of issue, those public health issues, that we need to give to the public health professionals, not to elected county officials that may not have any expertise in that area.
Assess the relationship between the city and county. Does that relationship need work?
If you had asked me that a week ago, I would have said no. There may be a little bit of work that now needs to be done.
But, you know, in general, we have a great relationship with the city of Columbia. The county and the city share roads. Through our sheriff, all of the municipalities in Boone County have a joint RMS/JMS system (records and jail management). So they all share information. And that was promoted by our sheriff, but all of the other agencies came on board because they saw that benefit. We have this common health department. We work together with the city all the time to say how do we utilize resources to serve our mutual constituents as well as we can for as little money as possible. And so that's, I mean, this is a great relationship.
And one case in point. Last week, Boone County was named a finalist by the Urban Institute on an economic upward mobility grant. Some of our main partners in that -- Boone County's the lead but we have the city of Columbia as one of the main partners, one of the main entities with whom we're collaborating on that on that grant. And if that comes to Boone County, that's 18 months of technical assistance that is tailored to Boone County to really talk about how do we make economic opportunity available to everyone across all sectors?
County leaders say one of their biggest challenges is stagnant sales tax revenue. What should the county do to address this issue?
Well, one of the best ways, it's not the silver bullet, but it certainly would help is, what we call the online sales tax problem, commonly known as Wayfair.
The U.S. Supreme Court issued an opinion a couple years ago called Wayfair v. South Dakota. And that gave us really the pathway. It even gave us a game plan for moving forward. Because what's happened is for the last two years, we see that in the United States, people are making more and more purchases online. In fact, over 50% of all purchases are now made online, not with our brick and mortar stores online. And what that means is the sales tax that would otherwise be collected at Dryer's (shoe store in Columbia) for if you're buying a pair of shoes or Larry's (Boots at Midway) if you're buying a pair of boots or Angell's, if you want a pair of jeans up in Centralia, that sales tax isn't being collected anywhere. But if we're buying them through Amazon, that means that Amazon is delivering those packages, is using our roads to deliver them. They're using our law enforcement, they're using our fire departments, they're using, God forbid, our EMS systems, they're using all of our services, but they're not putting anything back into the community. And we're not purchasing anything from those local vendors to keep them afloat.
So that's the first thing is to utilize, that setup, that path that the U.S. Supreme Court gave us in Wayfair. And that will take us a long way towards making this a more equitable solution.