The Daily Gamecock

Mayor speaks on leadership at USC

Benjamin highlights success, addresses city’s problems

Among the issues broached in Benjamin's question-and-answer session were retaining and attracting entrepreneurs to the city, fixing the floundering CMRTA bus system and establishing the mayor's vision for Columbia.

Benjamin also updated The Daily Gamecock on progress regarding crime in Five Points.

The mayor said that crime in the area was down across the board, ranging from more serious violent crimes to citations for underage drinking.

Benjamin attributed that change to new rules for bar owners, the recently established youth curfew and "more active enforcement" by police officers of laws, especially regarding violent crime but also including bar capacity restrictions and underage drinking.

Benjamin said his office had been working to grow business by following a three-pronged approach, but that his efforts still face challenges.

"We go out and we chase economic investment, trying to bring additional capital and jobs from outside here to our region; we have a new task force we set up ... to do a total review of all our laws and regulations and incentives, or lack thereof, to try to stimulate businesses right here," Benjamin said, adding that he was working on other stimuli for growth, including work with USC on its Technology Incubator.

Some of the challenges facing those efforts have been a lack of available capital, a problem exacerbated by the late decade banking crisis, but others, according to Benjamin, have more to do with Columbia's culture.

"I believe that we still treat business almost as an accommodation," he said. "We'll allow you to do business here if you follow our rules, as opposed to creating an environment where businesses can grow and prosper."

The mayor also discussed ongoing changes to the city's bus system, which has been mired in deficits and low ridership ever since its ownership was transferred from SCE&G to local governments nearly a decade ago.

"The [regional transit authority] is going to work itself out," said Benjamin, who described ongoing changes to the system and his goals for its success.

Speaking to The Daily Gamecock, the mayor explained that CMRTA's board of directors is currently being downsized and that control of the system is shifting somewhat from local government to Veolia Transportation, which runs the buses.

The city will announce its appointees to the board on Nov. 1, and a new executive director, to be employed by Veolia, will be named "in the next week or two," Benjamin said.