At a series of forums this week, candidates for Garden City offices sat together at a common table sharing their views on a myriad of issues related to their respective elections.

The Garden City Area Chamber of Commerce held three public forums this week for candidates running for the Garden City Commission, Garden City USD 457 Board of Education and Garden City Community College Board of Trustees, each giving prospective public officials a chance to introduce themselves to the public and answer several questions about the office.

Early voting is open in Finney County and residents will line up at the ballot box on Nov. 5 to cast their picks for the Garden City Commission, Holcomb City Council, Garden City USD 457 Board of Education, Holcomb USD 363 Board of Education and Garden City Community College Board of Trustees. But first, locals have the chance to hear what matters to each of those candidates.

Here’s a slice of the discourse from each of the three forums.

 

The Garden City Commission

Six of the seven candidates — Lindsay Byrnes, Roy Cessna, Liset Cruz, Shannon Dick, Manny Ortiz and Deb Oyler — were present at the forum Tuesday evening at the Garden City Administrative Building. Fernando Rodriguez-Infante is also running.

Moderators asked candidates questions about topics varying from community input to infrastructure needs to the city’s debt load, to which many suggested engaging the public through built-in input systems like the Capital Improvement Plan process and city advisory boards. Many also emphasized the need of additional child care options and more affordable housing in Garden City.

Here’s what candidates said when asked how they would promote sustainable economic growth, job creation and workforce retention in Garden City:

Cruz: Cruz said she would focus on small businesses and attracting new businesses in the area. More businesses would attract more regional shoppers to the city and bolster sales tax revenue, she said. The city should also work to attract trade workers to the area and collaborate with local schools and businesses to help young people fill local workforce needs.

Ortiz: Ortiz looked to the need for trade certification and career-driven higher education so residents would have more local options when pursuing different jobs.

Dick: Garden City has seen sustainable economic growth for the past 20 years, said Dick. To keep that up, he said the city should continue to offer development incentive programs, maintain partnerships with USD 457 and GCCC, emphasize the importance of trade jobs and seek out affordable housing and expanded child care options.

Cessna: Garden City has already worked to revitalize its downtown with the Downtown Development Fund, said Cessna. On the workforce front, he praised Garden City High School for its academies structure and efforts to help teenagers get certified and seek professional experience at a young age. The program would help the city “grow (its) own” workers and keep young people in the area, he said.

Byrnes: Byrnes agreed that Garden City is seeing positive growth. To maintain that, she said that commissioners should promote a diverse industry landscape by being aware of how they use incentive programs, supporting businesses already in town, attracting new businesses of all sizes and making resources available to everyone in the community.

Oyler: The market in Garden City is present and expanding, said Oyler, executive director of United Way. Regarding the local workforce, she said that commissioners should encourage programs at the high school that offer career opportunities to students, again in the attempt to “grow your own” employees. In order to retain those employees, she stressed the need for more affordable housing and more child care options.

 

USD 457 Board of Education

Candidates Dana Nanninga, Geovanni Gone-Macias, Janene Radke and Mark Rude were present at the forum for Garden City’s school board. Jennifer Standley, Alex Wallace, Allison Medina and Elda Menjivar are also running.

Those present discussed the possibility of the district reconfiguring its lower-level schools to K-5/6-8 grad structure, most saying they would need more information and research before making a final decision, pressing capital needs in the district and their thoughts on the state’s push to more individualized education paths.

When asked about the board’s role in promoting students’ and staff members’ health, candidates said the following:

Rude: Rude said the board’s role regarding students and staff health is to set the policy and let the district administration implement it. The district has added school nurses back to schools after years of cuts and made strides, with the help of grant funding, to offer on-campus resources for mental health as well. With continued communication and collaboration and an awareness of what students’ home lives are like, the district can continue offering special services, he said.

Nanninga: Nanninga said the board can set the tone for the district by promoting a positive district culture. Members could do this by working well together as a board, supporting administrators and teachers, giving staff the resources they need to support students, and prioritizing academics and social/emotional health, among other things, she said.

Gone-Macias: Gone-Macias pointed to USD 457’s participation in a state pilot program that connects local mental health professionals to students and campuses, which she said have had staggering results on student behavior and performance. The board’s role regarding health is to be aware of physical and mental health issues in the district, ask experts and community members for input and respond with innovative solutions, she said.

Radke: Radke applauded the district’s current efforts to promote student health, including partnerships with entities like LiveWell Finney County Health Coalition and Compass Behavioral Health or programs where teachers tend to students basic needs in the classroom, like providing food or school supplies. As a board member, she said her role would be to support those programs, pass along any ideas to administrators and make sure district policies promote a healthy lifestyle.

 

Garden City Community College Board of Trustees

All six of the GCCC Board of Trustees candidates — Scott Myers, Vanessa Gaytan, Aaron Kucharik, David Rupp, Shanda Smith and Beth Tedrow — were present for the Chamber’s final forum Thursday evening.

Candidates were asked about their understanding and opinions of the board’s policy governance, how they would consider budget decisions, how they would involve local business owners’ in conversations about programming and workforce and how the college should market itself.

Here’s how candidates responded when asked what they thought was the greatest challenge facing the college:

Gaytan: Gaytan said the college needed to expand its trade programs and create more options for students regarding curriculum and distance learning. She suggested adding programs through which students could earn bachelor’s or master’s degrees through partnerships with the school.

Tedrow: Tedrow said the college needed to better meet the needs of its community regarding workforce. She suggested further collaboration with area businesses and an expansion of technical programs.

Kucharik: Kucharik said the first problem affecting the college was a lack of community trust bred from several years of controversy or mistakes at the college. The college also needed to grapple with program growth and the lack of child care on campus and in the wider community, the latter of which he said limits access to non-traditional students.

Rupp: The college needs to pay attention to its enrollment rates, Rupp said, ensuring it goes up in the classroom and online. He said the school must also keep up with industry needs in the region and be mindful of the resources needed to do so.

Smith: Smith said the college needs to be aware of future challenges and career fields that its students would ultimately find themselves in. Using sufficient research and updated training, GCCC needs to prepare its students and community for businesses and career paths that do not exist yet, she said. The school also needs to consider future housing and student safety needs, she said.

Myers: Myers said two significant challenges stand before the college: rebuilding a foundation of trust between GCCC and its stakeholders and growing and sustaining programming. He said the college can bolster trust by being present in the community and truly listening to residents’ concerns and support its programs by collaborating with local school districts.

 

Mail and advance in-person voting is open in Finney County until noon on Monday, Nov. 4, and Election Day is Nov. 5.

 

Contact Amber Friend at afriend@gctelegram.com.