The opportunity to go to the polls and select the candidates we deem are the best fit and most qualified to serve on our local governmental boards is a right voters should not take for granted.
This is especially true when the races give us options. In the case of Tuesday’s elections for Garden City Commission, USD 457 Board of Education and Garden City Community College Board of Trustees, voters have no shortage of good options.
Seven candidates are vying for three spots on the City Commission, and five each are battling for three seats each on the USD 457 board and Board of Trustees. But while the quality of depth is strong, and each candidate has made positive contributions to the public discourse in the run-up to the election, three in each race stand out as the most worthy of voters’ support.
Garden City Commission
The lone incumbent is retired law enforcement official and current Mayor Melvin Dale, who has served on the commission since 2013. The challengers are physician Lindsay Byrnes, self-employed business owner Keith Collins, retail manager John Hahn, self-employed Pedro Rodriguez Jr., and insurance agent Troy Unruh. Crop insurance adjuster Chris Hamlin is on the ballot but hasn’t been actively campaigning and doesn’t seem to be a serious candidate at this point.
Most of the candidates agree that tackling the housing shortage, maintaining a progressive approach to economic development and continuing to reach out to the community’s many diverse ethnic groups are some of the most pressing needs. Byrnes, Collins and Dale are the best equipped to follow through.
Byrnes and Collins will provide new perspectives that could prove beneficial on the housing and economic development fronts. Dale’s experience as a key player on a commission that has made strides in helping create new housing opportunities and grow the city’s retail and manufacturing sectors is a plus.
All three seem willing to listen to voices from all corners of the community to accomplish the city’s goals. That’s why they are the best choices on Tuesday.
Garden City USD 457
The field includes a mix of experienced and new candidates, with relatively few differences between them on the issues.
Attorney Lara Bors and retired Air Force officer Jean Clifford, who have served on the board since 2011 and 2012, respectively, bring experience. The challengers are orthodontist Tim Hanigan, GCCC head football coach Jeff Sims and business owner and former school board member Alex Wallace.
The candidates agree that recruiting and retention of quality teachers, operating on a lean budget while avoiding cuts to the classroom in wake of school finance uncertainty and having a willingness to take a broad approach when measuring student and district achievement should be areas of focus.
With little separating the candidates on the issues, the best move here is to go with experience, particularly with the complexities of school finance continuing to loom.
With that in mind, Bors and Clifford should get new terms on the board. While Wallace also brings experience to the table, the third seat should go to Hanigan, who will be thoughtful in his decisions and willing to challenge the status quo.
GCCC Board of Trustees
The trustees race features a trio of current board members and two challengers with strong ties to the college.
Nurse practitioner Merilyn Douglass has been serving on the board since 2005 and is seeking a fourth term, while retired farmer and former Kansas Speaker of the House Melvin Neufeld was appointed to the board in March 2015 and is seeking a second term. A third incumbent, chiropractor Dr. Blake Wasinger, was appointed to the board in 2016 and is seeking his first full term.
The challengers are retiree Leonard Hitz, who serves on the Holcomb/Garden City/Finney County Area Planning Commission and was a longtime board member for GCCC’s Broncbuster Athletic Association, and retired GCCC criminal justice instructor and law enforcement officer David Rupp.
While Douglass has served the community well on the board, as evidenced by her recent national award for her work as a trustee, the board needs a fresh perspective.
Hitz said it best recently when he said, “If we keep electing the same incumbents, you never have any new thoughts and ideas.”
Hitz and Rupp would bring a new perspective and a familiarity with the college that would serve them well as trustees. As its youngest member, Wasinger already has brought a different viewpoint to the board, and deserves a chance to see what he can bring to the table over a full term.
Hitz, Rupp and Wasinger should get the nod.