Tonganoxie candidates gather for forum
Finances dominated Saturday’s candidate forum at the Tonganoxie VFW Post Home.
Candidates vying for Tonganoxie City Council and Tonganoxie USD 464 School Board seats gave speeches about themselves and then answered questions.
The forum, which about 70 people attended, lasted about 2 1/2 hours.
Tonganoxie City Council candidates were up first at the forum. Incumbent Kara Reed, as well as challengers Charles Conrad, Susan Freemyer, Melynda Harbour, Curtis Oroke and Michael Vestal gave four-minute introductions and then took questions that were submitted to moderator, VFW member and Tonganoxie USD 464 board member Dan Hopkins.
Oroke said Fourth Street would be one of his main focuses if elected.
“One of my big priorities is revitalizing downtown to get foot traffic,” he said. “I don’t care if it’s a Weston (Missouri) or what, by we need to have foot traffic. Otherwise, everything is going to the highway.”
Conrad echoed Oroke’s concerns about downtown. He also said he disagreed with the hire of Jack Holcom as the city’s new fire chief. He did not have issue with Holcom, who came from Olathe. Conrad voiced concern that what he thought to be a well-qualified local candidate was passed over.
“He was born and raised in this community and spends money in this community and he didn’t get the job,” Conrad said. “He lives in this community. We’re not looking right.”
Conrad also praised the new chief.
“Jack seems to be a great man,” he said. “Kudos to Jack, our new fire chief.”
Conrad spent 30 years on the local fire department, 18 of which as fire chief.
Harbour said everyone running for the council seats love Tonganoxie and are showing it by taking on the challenge of possibly being on the council while working with a $12 million debt.
She said economic development should be the focus.
“We need to get manufacturing,” she said.
Other candidates echoed the debt issue, but Reed, the lone incumbent in the race, pointed to strides the council has made in the time she’s been on it.
She noted the budget has been reduced by $3 million in the two years since she was appointed.
Reed noted she wasn’t going to make a bunch of campaign promises, but did pledge to listen to residents and make good, informed decisions.
She also pledged to use facts and research to make her decisions and not get bogged down in topics that stall action.
“How can I promise you these things?” Reed rhetorically asked. “These are things I have been doing on the council.”
She said she was proud to be a part of a council that moved forward with a sidewalk along Washington Street that has been a benefit to children walking to and from school.
Freemyer said one of her main concerns for the city is the future of the police department. The current station is in a temporary spot across from City Hall, but she said a long-term plan needed to happen.
An infrastructure committee, of which Reed is a member, has been looking at ways to provide a new police station, possibly with other entities, such as city offices, library and school district offices.
Oroke voiced security concerns about the police station being connected to other offices.
Reed said police Chief Jeff Brandau has voiced approval for a station in a shared building or a standalone structure.
Vestal said he’d like to see incentives offered to entice businesses.
“If we could waive some basic fees to get a business here, if they come here we’re going to get that money 10 times over,” Vestal said.
Incumbent Jason Ward and challenger Bill Peak admitted the council forum covered many topics.
Ward, who has been mayor for five years and on the council for roughly a decade, said he is running for re-election because he wants to help “continue building a better tomorrow” for Tonganoxie.
Peak, whom Ward appointed to the council, formerly was on the planning commission and has been interested in the city’s procedures for some time, as he attended most meetings for several years before joining the council.
He said he was proud of a policy change for which he pushed involving audience interaction at meetings. The updated policy allows for people to speak to various issues throughout the meeting.
USD 464 has four seats open this election.
Candidates for three of the seats discussed various issues. Incumbent Diane Truesdell and challenger Amelia Brusven, who are squaring off in the Position 1 race, could not attend.
School funding dominated discussions among candidates. Most agreed that legislative decisions in Topeka would make for tough challenges locally
Bill Loechler, who is running for position 2 against incumbent Kathy Baragary and fellow challenger Kaija Baldock, said numbers he evaluated showed the district had an increased budget.
“Money seems to be OK,” he said.
He said the district could do better in state rankings, specifically in high school. Tonganoxie High School ranks 125th in the state, while De Soto ranks fifth, Piper 10th and Basehor-Linwood 41st.
Loechler quoted the book “One Nation Under Taught” numerous times during the forum and wants to push for a return of prayer in schools.
Candidates discussed funding at length, with Baldock noting she said cutting student services would be last on her list.
Baragary and Becker discussed concerns the Legislature’s block funding plan, with Baragary reminding those in attendance to voice their opinions on the matter to state Rep. Connie O’Brien, R-Tonganoxie, who was in attendance Saturday.
Tamara Behm told of the importance of getting involved. She said she had a child who was bringing home a textbook held together with duct tape. She said she and her husband wrote a letter to the district and new textbooks were ordered.
Fellow candidate Shelly McGhee told the crowd her work on several board environments in her job would serve her well if elected. She also noted open communication and transparency with patrons were important.
Kemp has been involved in the THS Booster Club and said he was proud of a project that provided a main gateway entrance to Beatty Field.
• Incumbent Diane Truesdell and challenger Amelia Brusven.
• Incumbent Kathy Baragary, challengers Kaija Baldock and William Loechler.
• Incumbent Gene Becker and challenger Michelle McGhee.
• Tamara Behm and Bryan Kemp.
Tongaonxie City Council
• Incumbent Kara Reed and challengers Charles Conrad, Susan Freemyer, Melynda Harbour, Curtis Oroke and Michael Vestal.
• Incumbent Jason Ward and current Council member Bill Peak.