A leader tuned into diversity and "openness" - Melanie Huggins Endorses Andy Smith

Melanie Huggins is the executive director of the Richland Library If Andy Smith doesn’t win on November 3rd, I wont lose much.


This might seem an odd opener for someone who supports Andy Smith in the at-large City Council election but stick with me…


Since I’ve been the executive director of the Richland Library, our nationally regarded and locally beloved organization has never received funding from the City. No H-Tax, no special bonds for capital. Nothing. We are 95% supported by property taxes assessed by Richland County (Thank you!). I don’t even live in the city limits. So my support of Andy is devoid of any self-interest or hope for some greater, immediate benefit for my organization.


I support Andy because I believe that if he’s elected on November 3rd, we all have so much to gain.


A Knight Foundation report called “Soul of the City” explained why people choose to live where they do; what connects them and makes them happy with the places they live. This report included Columbia and 24 other cities and it found that a city’s social offerings and aesthetics are key to influencing people to move here and retaining the talent we have. In these two areas, Columbia was ranked as strong.  Our city is pretty, we have beautiful natural resources and our calendar of events is full year-round.


But one variable—stated by Columbians in this study as important to their feeling connected to the city—is described as “openness” and it that area, we don’t look so good.  “Openness” as described in the report looks at how welcoming we are to different groups and we do the worst job with our young residents (18-34) and with the LGBTQ community. As someone not in either of those categories (I’m in a category that feels very welcome, according to the survey, BTW), as a leader who needs a talented, connected workforce and strong partners, and as a woman who wants her family to live in a diverse, progressive city, this is unacceptable.


We need a leader in our city that is tuned in to the issues of “openness” and can ensure our city behaves in a way that welcomes and supports diversity.


I know Andy to be collaborative, inclusive and forward thinking. I have seen firsthand how passionately he works to make communities more livable and more vital. He understands that when trying to build community cohesion, you can’t provide solutions FOR people; you have to work WITH the people you serve. I believe he will do this with residents as well as with his colleagues on city council.


I know he will advocate for more investments in the arts to make sure our social and cultural offerings continue to be a strength.  Andy will work to make sure our community is welcoming to artists and young innovators by encouraging the creation of affordable spaces for them to live and work. He will support efforts to attract and keep the creative workforce we need to be a city people want to live in and spend their money and time in.


Andy has wonderful ideas and a passion for this city which is why I hope he wins on November 3rd. I urge my city-dwelling friends and partners to head to the polls and cast your vote for a more welcoming and creative city.