GCCC Board of Trustees candidates voice opinions in forum

Meghan Flynn
Garden City Telegram
Mark Hinde, right, answers a question Monday as Mark Douglass and Merilyn Douglass look on during a Garden City Area Chamber of Commerce candidates forum at the Garden City Administrative Center. The forum was for candidates running for the Garden City Community College Board of Trustees.

The Garden City Area Chamber of Commerce held its second in a series of candidate forums Monday night with the Garden City Community College Board of Trustees.

The candidates are incumbents Blake Wasinger, Leonard Hitz and Merilyn Douglass and challengers Mark Douglass, Mark Hinde and Robert Larson.

Mark Douglass said he decided to run this year because after being involved with the college for years he felt it was time to give back.

"I believe everybody at one time in their life should perform public service," he said. "So, I think this is my time because I've been so involved with the college for the last 40 years that it's my time to give back to them and see what I can do to help."

Larson shared a similar sentiment, saying it's his civic duty to help where he can and that it goes along with his community servant/leader attitude. 

"I've spent 19 years with the college, I think it's a tremendous place and a great opportunity for young people to come and get their feet wet in college," he said. 

Bob Larson, center, answers a question as Blake Wasinger, right, and Leonard Hitz listen Monday during a Garden City Area Chamber of Commerce candidates forum at the Garden City Administrative Center.  The forum was for candidates running for the Garden City Community College Board of Trustees.

Hinde said he decided to run to serve the community, he believes public service is important, especially after growing up with a father who served as a mayor and on the city council in his hometown and being involved in boy scouts and 4-H.

"I just believe that's part of life. There's a lot of people that will sit back and not do that, but I believe it's important to do that," he said. "Also, student success is something that's very important to me."

Wasinger said he decided to run again because education is important to him. It opened up a lot of doors for him and it opens doors for everyone and he wants to help contribute to student success and developing the workforce in Garden City. He believes his history as a trustee, understanding the yearly process for the board, will be beneficial is he's allowed to continue as a member.

"We need to focus on education ... and keep those individuals here in Garden City and build Garden City and by doing that with some of those traits and having programs that really build careers for young individuals that may not have thought ever going to college was right for them," he said. "It gives them a career and not living in poverty and really can benefit the community as a whole."

Merilyn Douglass said she decided to run for reelection because it's everyone's duty to support GCCC in whatever way they can and for her it's by being a trustee.

"I have experience and history in dealing with the accreditation visit and going through what happened with the probationary status and then our re-insertion of our accreditation. I want to continue that for the next visit that's coming up in 2022," she said. "The last thing I would say is that we have new directions that we're going in and I want to be a part of that as well."  

Hitz said he's running for reelection because he believes in GCCC and that it's an integral part of the economy of both Finney County and Garden City. 

"I made my hone in Garden City in 1976, at that time Garden City had the reputation of a city that was progressive and on the move," he said. "The fact sheets for fiscal year 2016, 2017 showed that the college had an annual economic impact of $77.3 million a year, we supported 1,418 jobs. These numbers were four years ago and they've obviously increased. It's important for the voters to know the impact that the college has and all that we provide."

One topic touched upon during the forum is the importance of a the Board "speaking with one voice" and how each candidate would convey information to the public if how they voted differed from the results of a particular item. 

All candidates agreed that it's important after a decision has been made to stand by the majority vote of the Board. 

Wasinger said he can say that he didn't agree with a decision in a professional manner, but you have to move on because it was a majority vote. 

"We're not out there to antagonize or put down another board member or say anything differently, it is a one voice after the vote has been cast or been brought up and it's been voted on and it passes," he said. "It's done with and we move on."

Mark Douglass agreed, said that majority always rules.

"We're not ever going to, everybody's going to agree every time on every subject, but once there is a vote you have to go with it and go along," he said. "But, you can explain your reasoning why you voted for or against it. I agree that that's the way it has to be."

Larson said the Board has to be a team and pull together. '

"You get your right to voice your opinion, and voice your opinion strongly ... You have to be together, you have to be together," he said. "Voice your opinion as much as you want, but when you leave that war room, you've all got to be together."

Hinde said during discussion a trustee can voice their opposition adamantly, but in a professional manner and once all is aid and done and a decision is made they need to stick by the majority vote. 

"I believe the important thing is that that board does act as one and that voice needs to come from that," he said. "Somebody may ask you why you did what you did, why you voted the way you did, you can explain that, but again, you need to do that in a professional manner as well." 

Another topic touched upon is how the trustees should engage with the community and get stakeholder input to inform workforce development and training needs at GCCC.

Hitz said the only big way to do that is by getting involved themselves, spending time on campus and talking to people. 

"I think it's important for the board members to be visible on campus so they know what all's going on and they also be visible in the community so you know if the workforce requirements are coming in, they're legitimate," he said. "I think we should be there to meet the workforce requirements too."

Hinde agrees that trustees need to be on campus and they need to be out in the community with organizations such as the Finney County Economic Development Corporation and Chamber of Commerce and business leaders and organizations. They just need to reach out to see the needs of the community.

"I just think it's being involved in the campus, being involved with community leaders, being involved in organizations in the city of Garden City that you know what's going on and that you know the needs of the community and the college," he said.

Mark Douglass also agrees that it's about engaging those on campus.

"(You need to) ask questions, what would be the advantage of this and that," he said. "Also, you need to be out in the community as much as you can and listen to business leaders – what do they need in their businesses for employees and whatever and maybe we can design programs to keep those students here inside of western Kansas."

Larson said he agrees with Mark Douglass that they should speak with businesses about what they need so that maybe they can "prepare students ahead of the game so that they don't have to wait a year or year and a half to be able to hire someone."

"If we're looking about how they want to engage the stakeholders, I think they just have to come to people that are on the board and let their wishes be known as well so that that can be carried on," he said.  

Merilyn Douglass said it's one of the toughest things that needs to be addressed by the Board of Trustees and they never feel like they're doing enough, they can't reach everyone.

"I had thought about this for a long time, I think that we need to reach out to churches, to cultural places," she said. "We need to go up to Martin's Trailer Court and somehow engage with some of those folks so that we are not only hitting business people but we are hitting our community and we want to hear what their needs are. Especially in communities that are of different ethnicities, that are different economic backgrounds, we need to be catching some of those folks as well. We got to keep working on it."

Wasinger agrees that it's one of the tougher things to do, it's hard to engage with the whole community and even when engaging with civic groups and the Chamber there's still areas and groups that they miss. 

"We have capabilities of reaching out to the board members, forums, things like that, they just don't seem to work and I don't know why," he said. "That's a question that we are trying to answer but I truly believe the only way is asking the people, just straight-out asking people 'what do you think's going out with the college? How's things going?'"