While the conversation did eventually get around to politics, Janet Thompson, Northern Boone County commissioner was in Centralia Thursday, Oct. 22 to discuss something she said people might be happier to hear about.
Holding a framed reproduction of the Boone County Bicentennial mural, painted by groups representing each of the county’s municipalities, Thompson told an audience of 12 members of the Centralia Kiwanis Club how the mural came to pass and where people could see it in its 30-foot-high glory.
The mural now hangs, she said, in the Boone County History and Culture Center
Divided into eight sections, each representing one of the county’s communities, the pieces became, mini-murals, where groups engaged in team art.
After earlier discussions where community committees had discussed those things that were significant about the community, important its history.
“This is us, this is our community,” she said.
In Centralia’s case, those included the Avenue of Flags, the tractor parade, the railroad, City Hall, the Chance Museum and Rose Garden.
Boone County artist Stacy Self sketched the items and people came and painted them in. “The vision and the artwork of the people of each community, things people thought were important to Centralia’s history, important to pass on,” Thompson said.
In Centralia, people painted from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., she said.
The mural is called “Treasurers of Boone County.”
“It is a stunning exhibit,” Thompson said, “it should be on display until the end of the year.
She said the piece of the mural is scheduled to be returned to Centralia at the end of the year and hung for public display somewhere in Centralia.
From there, Thompson answered the audience question about what her daily routine as a commissioner was like.
She said the commission met as a group twice a week; Tuesday – 9:30 a.m. and Thursday – 1:30 p.m.
Between those, in her case, she said she served on various committees, some local, some national, performed work related to those and spent a lot of time inspecting roads. “I like to see what’s been done to them. If I have a problem, I call the Road and Bridge department.”
From there they discussed CARES Act funding.
“A lot of time and thought is going into finding out how to spend it where it is needed most,” she said. “Right now, we are looking at some form of utility assistance. The city of Columbia might be cutting off utilities. That could push many families to the edge of homelessness.”
Thompson said the commission was working with Centralia Missouri Community Action as a portal for the funds.
She also said the commission is working with a group of county school superintendents, including those representing Centralia, Hallsville and Sturgeon and discussing a per-student allocation.
“We’ve looked at $100 per student, $200 per student,” Thompson said. “We’ve looked at the metrics based on the population of the schools, that’s what we are looking at right now… We are trying to see how we can make those schools whole again, trying to get those kids helped as best we can. We don’t have $35 million dollars.”
She said Boone County had received $21 million in CARES Act funding.
“It’s really tough, you want to be equitable… People thing Columbia gets everything, but this makes sense. The superintendents made a really good case.”
She said schools and health were the two top priorities.
She said $1.8 million has gone to the Columbia/Boone County Health Department to increase contact tracing and additional testing, especially free testing.
She said since COVID-19 had arrived commissioners’ days included a lot more shifting back and forth from their traditional roles to help the people cope with the pandemic.
Which led to the last topic.
Speaking from the audience Russ Greene, Jr., asked to whom Stephanie Browning, director of the Columbia Boone County Health Department reported.
“The city-county health department, all the employees, including the director are employees of the city of Columbia,” Thompson said.
“Years ago… The county decided instead of setting up a separate health department we would contract with Columbia… so we didn’t have to have a separate health department to take care of the issues for the entire county. So instead of having two department side-by-side, we have one department and jurisdiction given to the health department to be able to implement whatever process needed to happen for sewers, nuisance abatements or health issues, such as now.”
She said as an employee, Browning reported to John Glasscock, Columbia’s city manager.
Browning gives a monthly report to the commissioners, “more often now.”
She is hired by the city as an employee, she said, and the city of Columbia contracts the department’s services to the county.
“Many communities, one county…sometimes it feels like its many communities, one city, everything geared toward Columbia” Greene said.
Thompson said she understood why people feel that way.
“Sometimes it feels like they’re sort of the elephant in the room… It makes sense to me to have one department rather than have the residents setting up a separate department.”
She said Browning actions were data driven, and encouraged people with questions and concerns to reach out to Browning. One example of data driven decisions, Thompson said, was Browning’s decision mandating masks for the city of Columbia but not the whole county. “The date didn’t justify it for the whole county,” Thompson said. “The data shows a mask helps keep the virus from being transmitted… She’s looking at the data to see where it makes sense, to keep us as safe as possible and we can continue to function.”