Archive for Thursday, March 29, 2007

Candidates answer candid questions

March 29, 2007

Voters had their last chance to hear candidates for Baldwin City Council and Baldwin School Board speak publicly Tuesday.

The Baldwin City Chamber of Commerce sponsored the candidate forum at the Baldwin Junior High School auditorium and about 40 people heard the candidates give opening and closing statements, as well as answers to questions that they hadn't been prepared for. That was a change from previous forums.

Ivan Huntoon, vice president of the chamber who was in charge of the series of three candidate forums, thought the candidates did well.

"I thought it went well," said Huntoon. "I thought the candidates gave some good responses and you can tell where they stand on certain issues, so I thought it was enlightening.

"Growth would definitely be an issue," he said. "I think just how to facilitate growth and how taxes always come into play. I thought the school board candidates had good responses, too. I really appreciated the school board members who are running unopposed giving their views, too."

The general election is Tuesday. All normal polling places -- unlike the recent primary election where some weren't open -- will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Advance voting can be done at the Douglas County Courthouse, including Saturday from 8 a.m. to noon?

Voters will choose three people for openings on the city council. Running for re-election are incumbents Ted Brechiesen Jr., Nancy Brown and Tony Brown. There are four openings on the school board, but three incumbents -- Alison Bauer, Blaine Cone and Scott Lauridsen -- are running unopposed. Squaring off in the at-large position 7 race are Teresa Arnold and Joshua Mihesuah.

All 11 candidates were at Tuesday's forum and answered a series of questions from Huntoon that had been submitted prior to Tuesday and one from a member of the audience that involved moral character.

City knowledge

Huntoon's first question asked candidates what they've done to familiarize themselves with departments and personnel in the city or school district, as well as facilities. The answers are given in the order they were presented.

"Familiarizing yourself with the various city offices is important," said T. Brown. "I've met with the police department, met with public works and others on issues that arise. Perhaps this is something we should do more of, but time is a factor."

"Truth be known, I haven't toured any of them (city facilities)," said Niehoff. "I've driven by them. The last few months have been a learning experience. I've been going to the city council meetings all year. What I hear about from the people are sewer issues. The other issue I hear is the fire hydrants."

"It turns out me being nosey has served me and you well," said N. Brown. "I drove (former utility director) Terry McKinney nuts with questions. I've done the same with Bill (Winegar, current utility director), (Police chief) Mike (McKenna) and (fire chief) Allen Craig. I have had the opportunity to tour the sewer plant and the power plant. I've pretty much stuck my nose everywhere. Working on the budget committee, I have talked to all of the city department heads."

"I've worked a lot with public works through my work with the Maple Leaf Festival," said Hayes, who has served on the MLF committee for years. "I've been to all the meetings since deciding to run, read my packets and familiarized myself on everything. I've talked with Mike (McKenna) and Bill (Winegar). I'm doing research."

"Regardless of if you're in business or public service, it's all about people," said Wagner, who served on the council from 2001 to 2005. "That's what it's all about and who you need to know. I've been in all of the facilities. I'm still on the zoning board of appeals. Through business dealings, I've gotten to know the people on the other side. My experience the last two years has been a working situation."

"On the public works, I've stayed real close with Bill (Winegar)," said Brecheisen. "When you're on the council, you're appointed to certain committees. We have our own little fields. The city staff does a pretty fine job. They do a lot of things that the people don't know about. We've got a good crew on board.

District knowledge

The same question was asked of the school board candidates. Their answers are also listed in order.

"That's part of the process with being a school board member is immersing yourself in everything," said Lauridsen. "Although we get training from the Kansas Association of School Boards, it really is on the job training. We provide oversight for what happens with everything."

"Even before the last four years on the board, I had worked for years getting to know the schools where my kids attended and the administration," said Cone. "I've toured all of the buildings. I'm on various committee and am on the special ed coop. We have a lot of strengths, mainly our staff. Our weaknesses are facilities and we need to pay teachers more."

"Since I've been running for school board and before, I've been to school board meetings, I've been to all the PTOs and site councils and I've talked to everyone, including janitors," said Mihesuah. "I think it's important to talk to students, too. Everyone working together is a strength and makes up for a lot of the weaknesses. We really need to collaborate more with the city and Baker."

"As clerk of the school board, I attended many meetings over the years," said Arnold, who was the clerk for 15 years. "I feel like I know what's going on. With three kids in the district, I've experienced that, too. I still have contact with a lot of administrators and staff members."

"I've met all administrators and been to all the schools," said Bauer. "I do know everyone. Our strength is our community and our staff. I think we have a wonderful district. Weaknesses we've identified. I can't think of anything huge right now, except for facilities, such as broken windows and no heat."

The 'great divide?'

Huntoon surprised the candidates -- and the audience -- with a question that had been submitted to him Monday afternoon. He said "Many people in Baldwin City see U.S. Highway 56 as a dividing line. What can be done to fix that?"

"I definitely see 56 as a dividing line," said Niehoff. "South of 56 is older and north is new and pretty. When I'm on the south side, I see things that are being neglected. Sidwalks need replaced and there are bad roads. I work in Kansas City and come back here to what I want. I don't want us to become a suburban Kansas City."

"I agree U.S. 56 is an undeniable dividing line," said N. Brown. "We can correct that to some extent. The council is working on things on the south side of town, including sidewalks. These things are not being ignored. It's all about money."

"Until this question was asked, I'd never thought about this," said Hayes. "Diversity builds our community. Some people like the older houses and trees. Some people like newer house and we should welcome them. I think diversity is good. I don't see it as a dividing line."

"I personally don't view U.S. 56 as the Mason-Dixon line and the feuding Hatfields and McCoys," said Wagner. "The city and state of Kansas are putting a lot of money into improving downtown Baldwin and restoring the Women's Bridge. The sidewalk issue is a big issue. It costs $15 a linear foot to replace them."

"I've never thought of 56 highway as a dividing line," said Brecheisen. "New subdivisions require curbs and gutters. If developers could get by without curbs and gutters they'd love that. I don't see it as a division."

"I think that 56 highway is a dividing line only if we allow it to be," said T. Brown. "When people talk about Baldwin City, they talk about the brick streets downtown and Baker University. It's old Baldwin. I see a lot of growth coming. Let's incorporate all of Baldwin. Let's talk about all of Baldwin."

District issues

Instead of the dividing line question, school board candidates were asked what the most important issues are that the district is facing.

"I think we all touched on what's important," said Cone. "No. 1 is facilities. Build, fix or repair. We're still working on the financial challenge that we had this year. Getting more pay for teachers and money for everything is No. 2. Those are the two biggest challenges we have. Then there's the unknown of the Gardner Intermodal. Those are the top three."

"I think one of the biggest issues is vision," said Mihesuah. "If you don't have a vision, you don't know where you're going. We will be growing and we need to plan for the future. We need to keep good teachers and keep good class sizes. Everyone needs to collaborate on everything."

"Facilities," Arnold said. "Our teachers are still working without a contract. Another thing I see is keeping up with state mandates. That still has come unfunded."

"Facilities are No. 1," said Bauer. "Keeping our teachers is another. A lot of our good teachers are getting older and retiring. Attracting and retaining teachers is important."

"I think vision is absolutely imperative," said Lauidsen. "The problem with that vision is the board turns over every few years. Vision needs to come from administrators. I'm focusing on getting good leadership hired and staying."

Closing remarks

The candidates answered several other questions, including how to cooperate better between the city, district and Baker. The common answer was communication. Closing remarks wrapped up the two-hour long forum and all candidates thanked the chamber for hosting the event and for the people who showed up.

"I think the next few years are going to be pivotal for Baldwin City," said Wagner. "Do we want to be isolated? This community opened its arms to my family 10 years ago and we need to continue that. There are people who don't want to see Baldwin grown. Baldwin is going to grow. We need to find ways for tax relief and to lower utility costs. Commercial businesses pay more in taxes and provide relief for other taxpayers."

Although it doesn't look like it, we've always tried to plan for growth," said Brecheisen. "Developers will determine how much growth we have. Utility rates. We're probably not going to see anything lower. I cannot see our utility cost getting cheaper."

"My personal opinion toward government is it ought to be visionary," said T. Brown. "I'm not going to watch the tax rate. There are others, like Junioir, that will do that. Let's think big. Big ideas don't cost a nickel."

"I hate to see it grow too much," said Niehoff. "I know we're going to grow a little bit. I hate to see it grow enough to become a suburban city. If we grow too much, once the houses are here we're going to have to upgrade our infrastructure."

"We love what Baldwin has, but we have to take advantage of what the intermodal will bring," said N. Brown. "We need to maintain the vitality of the community. We have a comprehensive plan that we can use to manage growth."

"We are coming up on a times in Baldwin that are very exciting," said Hayes. "This is a great place to live. We need to welcome people like we've been welcomed."

"Money is not going to solve all the problems," said Mihesuah. "People working together makes it happen. We're never going to have the funding we want. We need to get everyone on the same page. I think I bring a lot of common sense. That's one thing I believe I have a lot of."

"I'm really excited about this, having the opportunity to take my experience in working for the district and doing something with that," said Arnold. "I have a good listening shoulder. I look forward to working with the present board because I think they've done an excellent job in getting us where we are today."

Because of space limitations, closing statements for unopposed incumbents weren't used.

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