Garden City Commission candidates speak at Chamber forum

Meghan Flynn
Garden City Telegram
Manny Ortiz, left, answers a question as Deb Oyler and Troy Unruh look on Tuesday during a Garden City Area Chamber of Commerce candidates forum at the City Administrative Center.  The trio of candidates, all incumbents, are running for re-election to the Garden City Commission.

The Garden City Area Chamber of Commerce held the first in a series of candidate forums Tuesday night, starting with the Garden City Commission. 

The candidates are Manny Ortiz, Deb Oyler and Troy Unruh, all are incumbents, and are running unopposed. 

Unruh said he initially decided to run for the Commission almost four years ago because he wanted to communicate to the residents in his campaign that their voices and input are important and vital for Garden City to be successful and that he was representing their voices to the city. 

"My campaign centered on the slogan 'this sign can't vote, your voice matters,'" he said. "It became a way for me to let people know that I wouldn't forget who I serve."

Ortiz said he originally decided to run because he wanted to get involved with the city. At the time he didn't know to what extent he was getting involved, that there was a lot more work behind the scenes as far as the people that are involved including the citizens and administration, etc.

He hopes to be more engaged as time goes on in helping people understand and engage in the city.

"I guess now I'm going in deeper with the City Commission is to try to elaborate more on that and collaborate with the citizens, get them involved, plugging in, getting your thoughts out to us so that we can help you get those questions answered," he said. 

Oyler said her two year term has been interesting, especially as it coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic, but she's learned a lot about how the city works and is proud with all that has been accomplished in that time including Garden Rapids at The Big Pool, Lee Richardson Zoo improvements, Jennie Barker Road improvements, establishing Rural Housing Incentive Districts and creating Southeast Community Park. 

"That's just a few of the things that we've still managed to accomplish together and moving the city forward doing all the things that we set out to do when we set our goals," she said. "For that I'm very, very proud to be a part of this."

One of the topics touched on during the forum is what each commissioner feel like they've accomplished in their time as a commissioner.

Unruh said Garden Rapids was the project closest to his heart, not because of the facility itself, but because of the process it took to create the facility.

"It was the biggest community input endeavor that we've ever had, so I love the way that the community came together to create something that's incredible, really a good memory for all of us," he said. 

He also talked bout how the city has secured its energy needs for the next several years by purchasing two electric substations from Wheatland Electric. 

"What that does is that has saved our community so much money over the next several years, but over into the future we have really secured our energy needs for that," he said. 

Ortiz said a lot has been accomplished while they have all been commissioners, but they can't take credit for it as it's been the work of them and past commissioners and mayors and city staff.

"I believe that all the congratulations goes to a lot of those pre-candidates that have been seated here before us," he said. "With just the short two years that we've been here I do feel like we were able to just go ahead and continue their vision and bring that to fruition for our citizens here in Garden City." 

Oyler said she feels like she's gotten a deeper understanding of the inner workings of the city and is proud of how they've been able to do the things set out at the city's goal setting retreats and to make sure that Garden City is a regional hub. 

"I think learning how to do all of those things together has probably been one of my greatest sources of pride and the fact that when you ask a question I can sometimes even answer it," she said. "Two years has gone by really, really fast, so I'm just proud of everything that we've been able to do up to this point."

Another topic the commissioners discussed was what they think is the most pressing need for infrastructure or capital projects in the city. 

Oyler said water and electric infrastructure is the biggest need, making sure that when the housing projects are complete the city can handle the load as well as the load from commercial and industrial properties like empirical foods.

"I know that that certainly does weight on waste water and water and gas and electricity, so making sure that we're in a position to be able to afford that expansion," she said. "Making sure that empirical foods has what it needs and I think that we've done a really, really good job of having that plan ahead of time."

Unruh said housing developments and underground amenities like water, sewer and electrical are all very important, but so is transportation as Garden City is connected to a lot of other communities, so highways are very important too.

" The things that we produce, if we can't move that out to other places, than really we become really stuck here," he said. 

Ortiz said housing and daycare are the two that have the most pressing capital projects in need of improvement to the residents of Garden City.

"It's different than what I would probably imagine Garden City wanting or needing, but when we are up here we are for the people and we hear their voice," he said. "That is something that we focus on to get that moving in the right direction to make it happen and the need now for childcare is probably one of the top things that we need to get moving."

Another topic touched on is what each commissioner thinks the city's role is in improving the health of the people in Garden City.

Unruh said he's a big advocate of health eating and active living and the city's parks and trails system and the Parks and Recreation Department and the opportunities they offer within the city play a big part in people's lives. 

"We as a city understand that not only is exercise, but also that we're willing to put dollars into exercise, dollars into those things that really matter to families," he said. "Our parks are built so that families can live life together."

Ortiz said the city's role is working with Neighborhood and Development Services and the Parks and Recreation Department to create opportunities is the city's role in improving the health of the residents.

"I grew up here, I was born here, I went to school in Manhattan but I came back and it's just a wonderful place that I actually grew up with a family," he said. "That's kind of what they look forward to, that's what we strive on is a family friendly city so that we can actually go out and have a healthy life and exercise and just walk the beautiful parks that we have and that are coming."

Oyler agrees that Parks and Recreation is a great way to improve the health of the city as is making sure sidewalks are safe and keeping the community connected as there are a lot of people that don't drive and making sure there are green spaces and parks trails connecting the new housing developments. 

Mental health programs are also important, Olyer said. 

"I know that LiveWell has done a lot of training with our Police Departments and making sure that they have that mental health training as well because improving health is both mind, body and spirit," she said. "Making sure that we've got all of those bases covered are so very important. I think that definitely doing those things helps."

Also discussed at the forum is what the commissioners believe the city's role is in providing housing.

Ortiz said the city's role is getting all the players to work together, from the developers to the city staff and the Neighborhood and Development services.

"We've got actually worked with some developers and making sure that we all understand that the bylaws and ordinances and city's requirements to get these properly built," he said. "There is a wrong way and we don't want our city to be going in the wrong direction with narrow streets and houses built on encroaching property line and things like that. I think getting those developers involved upfront is a major plan and role that we have as a city to actually engage that process so we don't find ourselves backtracking in a lot of that area." 

Oyler said the city's role is by doing what they can to encourage and help developments come about.

"Whether it be through offering incentives, working with our Economic Development council, working together with city staff," she said. "I think that it's really all of us sort of working together to do that."

Unruh agrees.

"I think it's all of us pulling together, but we really do need to look and do some out of the box thinking, so that might really try some things that we have never tried before with a reasonable amount of risk," he said. "We've done as much as we can with the tools that have been made available to us."