City council candidates communicate on issues
Communication, fiscal responsibility and the proposed business/recreation park were some of the issues that Baldwin City Council candidates expressed concern about during a public forum Thursday night.
Eight of the nine candidates for three open council positions participated in the question and answer session attended by about 150 people. Former Baldwin City police chief George Rebman was unable to attend.
The forum was sponsored by the Baldwin City Chamber of Commerce, and was moderated by Ryan Beasley, assistant professor of political science at Baker University. Candidates were asked a series of questions from the public that were selected by the chamber board prior to the forum.
Communication between the council and the community arose as an issue during the first question, which asked candidates for their opinion on the proposed south recreation/business park.
"I think one of the biggest issues was the fact that the city was able to lay out $25,000 earnest money for the project, and the citizens were not given the opportunity to express their concerns," said Mike Magers, who is seeking the two-year position held by Gene Nelson.
Magers did not support the business/recreation park. Neither did other new candidates. Ken Wagner, who is seeking a four-year term, also brought up the issue of communication.
Wagner said the owner of the oil leases and mineral rights on the 160 acres, Dan Martin, was not contacted by the city about his options. Martin called City Hall seeking more information, and his call was not returned, he said. During the process, Martin learned the city could condemn his property and remove him from the property.
"He has the legal right to sue the city if it pursues the purchase," Wagner said. "He has told me he intends to sue the city."
Wagner said the city was "irresponsible" for taking action on the property "without talking to the people involved in it."
"I'm very much opposed to the south industrial park," Wagner said.
(City Administrator Larry Paine spoke with Wagner after the forum and claimed that the city had indeed been in contact with Martin. Paine asked Wagner to retract the statements. Wagner sought out Martin Friday who confirmed what he said earlier about the city's lack of contact.)
Carol Lanoue, who is seeking a four-year position on the council, said the city has other needs.
"We have so many more pressing issues right now to look at," Lanoue said. "I understand the desire and the need to bring more money into the town, but industry right now isn't even feasible and shouldn't be looked at."
Incumbents Nelson and Lee Whaley both cast "yes" votes when the city decided to spend $25,000 to secure a purchase option on the land.
Nelson said there isn't any commercially-zoned property available in Baldwin. He also said if business or recreation options were not feasible, the land could be sold for residential development.
"I think we need to wait another year or two," Nelson said about the land.
Coincidentally, communication or the lack of it was one of the questions asked of the candidates. Of the two incumbents, Nelson said communication was one of the most "severe" problems of the council. He suggested an interactive Web site and encouraged citizens to attend meetings.
"There isn't a lot of time to get out and talk to our neighbors," said Nelson, as he held up an inch-thick agenda packet the council receives three days before a meeting. "You have a right and a responsibility to be there."
Whaley, who is seeking another four-year term, said communication has to work both ways, and that he has received only a dozen or so calls from citizens concerned about issues.
Todd Cohen, a candidate for the two-year position, said communication could be improved with a newsletter or a "customer satisfaction" survey, as is a common practice in some communities. He said the need for better communication is obvious.
"We had a cellular tower go up, and the neighbors didn't know about it," Cohen said.
George McCrary and Carol Taul, who both are seeking a four-year position, both said the council should make use of resources in the community and invite community members to serve on committees.
"I think we have quite a committee of resources," McCrary said. "I would like to call upon some of these people to be involved with subcommittees. Get more of the community involved."
All candidates expressed concern about the city's budget and the attached mill levy the highest in Douglas County.
Nelson and Whaley both voted against the current budget.
"We are well above other areas of Douglas County," Nelson said about the mill levy. "We need to be more in the middle of the pack."
Magers said the city needs to spend its tax dollars more wisely. He questioned the recent approval for a $230 per month car allowance for the city administrator.
"I think there are many places we can trim some fat," Magers said.
Candidates referred to several different issues when asked what issue is most important to them.
Several candidates brought up electricity and the future of the power plant.
Taul said she would be interested in the results of a study being conducted by city utility director Terry McKinney. That study will provide the expense for electricity with and without the power plant.
Nelson said the city may want to retain its ability to generate electricity.
"Those of us watching California aren't very eager to put our hands in big power companies," Nelson said.
Lanoue said recreation needs should be a priority, because recreational facilities have been a "long neglected item."
"Just now we are starting to react," Lanoue said. "There are a lot of kids going to surrounding cities for recreation."
Cohen said there is more than one issue.
"I don't think there is one big issue," Cohen said. "It depends on who you talk to. It may be your water pressure is so bad that you have a hard time taking a shower some days that's your number one issue. It may be like my neighbor I could buy her vote with a light bulb, she says, if I would just replace the street lamp on the corner. It all just depends on what is in your neighborhood.
"I think the big issue is to select a council and a mayor that is open to interaction and community involvement," he said.
Magers brought the issue back to communication.
"I think most of the issues that were brought up tonight might not even be issues if all the facts were laid out there at the time decisions were made," Magers said. "It's very important that the council and the city be truthful, give all the facts that are necessary and make sure all the information is out there."