The Cultural Empowerment and Development Foundation held back to back community events, first handing out school supplies to a winding line of local elementary school students and giving candidates for local office a chance to introduce themselves to interested constituents.

The co-founder of the foundation, Liset Cruz, said the organization handed out supplies to more than 150 students, mostly within the first half hour of the free supplies event at the Clarion Inn. Two hours before their doors open, a line of families stretched across the hotel’s lobby, she said.

The event and candidate forum fall in line with the foundation’s mission to encourage civic involvement among all citizens in Garden City, she said, and she plans to hold similar events in the future. Closer to the debates, the foundation is planning to hold a larger public Q&A forum for local candidates.

Cruz is a candidate herself, running for the Garden City Commission.

“We’re just being an advocate to go out and vote,” Cruz said.

Twelve of the 21 local candidates running for the Garden City Community College Board of Trustees, the Garden City USD 457 Board of Education and the Garden City Commission spoke at the meet and greet Friday. Here’s what they had to say.


GCCC Board of Trustees

Aaron Kucharik, funeral director at Price & Sons Funeral Home: Citing his father’s history as an educator, including as an instructor at GCCC, Kucharik said he wants to be involved in the college and continue with the progress the institution is making. He’s previously said he emphasizes transparency and brings change at a college “overdue for change.”

Beth Tedrow, retired dean of student services at GCCC: Tedrow, a GCCC alumnus, noted her nearly half-century career at the college as an instructor, counselor and dean, and said she wants to give back to a community and college that has “done so much” for her. She previously told The Telegram she would use her understanding of policies and procedures to restore the public’s confidence in the college.

David Rupp, retired Garden City Police Department officer: Like Tedrow, Rupp said he wanted to give back to the college he attended and taught at. He said he wanted to help the board be efficient and transparent. He ran for a seat on the board in 2017, losing by four votes.

Vanessa Gaytan, social worker and psychotherapist at Genesis Family Health: Gaytan said she wanted to give back to an institution that helped her see the value of education and grasp the opportunities she sought for herself and her family. A high school drop-out, Gaytan attended the college in her late 20s, ultimately graduating and earning her master’s in social work at Fort Hays State University. She said she wants to support the school and ensure that it “remains affordable and accessible” to families and community members.

Former GCCC Endowment Association President Shanda Smith and Holcomb USD 363 Superintendent Scott Myers also filed to run for seats on the board but were not present at the forum.


USD 457 Board of Education

Janene Radke, vice president of the Garden City Area Chamber of Commerce: Radke’s past experience all comes back to education, she said, and, as a parent, she’s always been impressed by the local district’s quality of education. With a background in trauma victim support, among other areas, she said she could offer a “unique voice” for the board and help it continue to move forward in a positive direction.

Elda Menjivar, nurse at St. Catherine Hospital: As a parent, Menjivar said she wanted to join the board to give back to the school system and support local children, including her own. Because her children attended local private schools when they were young, she said she could offer insight regarding the difference between the public and private systems.

Current board members Mark Rude, Dana Nanninga and Jennifer Standley and newcomers Alex Wallace, Allison Medina and Geovannie Gone-Macias also filed to run for seats on the board.


Garden City Commission

Roy Cessna, public information coordinator at USD 457: Cessna has served on the commission since 2011 and said he wants to run again to “encourage and enhance” the development of Garden City’s retail sectors and to encourage additional jobs in retail and industrial parks. He also said he would prioritize finishing the city’s work on local sales tax projects and enhance the terminal at the Garden City Regional Airport to make the city a transportation hub for all of western Kansas.

Deb Oyler, executive director of Finney County United Way: Oyler has served on public boards and nonprofit teams in Garden City for years, hoping to leave the city a little better than she found it, she said. She said ideally serving as commissioner would allow her to do just that by moving forward on local retail and development and the next steps for Garden City’s iconic Big Pool, as well as addressing ongoing issues like the child care shortage.

Shannon Dick, strategic analyst at Finney County Economic Development Corp.: Dick, who joined the commission this year, asked attendees to be proud of Garden City’s growth and city staff, saying the commission existed to make sure staff can do their job. He said as a commissioner he would prioritize maintaining home rule for local municipal governments and preserving water reuse, especially industrial water reuse in order to sustain life and growth in Finney County and western Kansas.

Manny Ortiz, architect at The Architect: A Garden City native, Ortiz said he wanted to show his four children that someone not well known in the community could make a difference. He said as someone active with local churches and Downtown Vision, he could bring valuable insight to the commission and would encourage the city to utilize local professionals in many fields.

Fernando Rodriguez-Infante, therapist and program director at Compass Behavioral Health: Rodriguez-Infante’s grandfather told him the best way to be a leader is to help the community. He said he wants to help Garden City continue to grow, as well as address physical, mental and financial health in the community.

Liset Cruz, traveling nurse: Cruz said Garden City is thriving, but there are still many people struggling economically. She said it hurts her to hear of families living paycheck to paycheck or working two jobs or struggling to cover insurance and rising property taxes. She said she wanted to join the commission to speak for them, for single parents, like herself, for working families, veterans and the elderly.

Current commissioner Lindsay Byrnes will also run for a seat on the commission.

Local elections will be held later this year on Nov. 5


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