GIRARD — Citizens became more familiar with candidates running for local positions thanks to a candidate forum Thursday.
The Girard Area Chamber of Commerce hosted the forum, which included candidates running for Girard City Council, USD 248 Board of Education and the position of mayor of Girard. Candidates spoke about their views, current issues and answered prepared questions and questions from the audience.
Mayoral candidates Mickey Pyle, Darrell Westhoff and Kurt Ziegler attended the forum, as well as First Ward Council Member Candidates Sandra Hallacy and Sheldon DeLange. Ziegler and DeLange currently serve in their respective positions and are running for reelection.
A popular topic among candidates running for city office was codes enforcement and cleaning up parts of the city. Each candidate agreed that areas in the city needed to be beautified. The city currently has codes in place that begin with a notice to the property owner, and can result in fines if the property is not cleaned up.
Ziegler said he would like to see the citywide clean-up go back to twice a year to help remedy the situation.
“Most people would rather have a hand up than a hand out,” Ziegler said. “We have codes in place, but I’m not sure a letter and threats of fines are the best way to start the conversation.”
Hallacy discussed the possibility of organizing a monthly day to have volunteers help clean up properties. Both Pyle and Westhoff said they like the idea of volunteer help, and would plan to work closely with Code Enforcement Officer Terry Wray on the situation.
Westhoff mirrored the idea of community help when discussing obstacles and areas in need of improvement in the city.
“The water system and streets are priorities, but a big obstacle is working together,” he said. “If there is a disaster or someone gets hurt, this town comes together like no other, but we need to band together the same way for everyday problems and do something everyday to help one another.”
Pyle said the water system was a main area in need of improvement.
“I am mostly concerned about the water system,” he said. “It is in need of improvements even before the streets because it is under the streets.”
Utility rates within the city were also discussed, with an audience member asking if those prices can be negotiated with the provider. Ziegler explained that the markup on the price for the city can be negotiated with the council, but those funds are used to operate many services.
Hallacy said she would like to explore new options for energy.
“There are towns here in Kansas operating off of wind turbines,” Hallacy said. “I think we should look into that and even solar power as an option, so we know we are getting the best deal we can.”
DeLange agreed that the money is important, but that the city should keep rates as low as possible.
“We use that money to operate as a city for police things of that nature,” DeLange said. “But high utility rates is a challenge to bringing in new businesses.”
DeLange also said lower taxes are a priority for him as a council member.
School board candidates included Patricia Marshall and Nick Cheney who are running for board position five, and Dale Coomes and Kelly Peak who are running for position six. Sharon Leonard is also running for position six, but was not in attendance for the forum. Leonard answered several prepared questions in written form since she could not attend the meeting.
Coomes was appointed to the school board in the summer when a vacancy opened up and is now running for a position again. He also coached volleyball at Girard High School for eight years.
"The education provided to my four boys by the Girard school system was exceptional," Coomes said. "I feel like I owe a great debt to the school, and that's why I'm running."
Peak said she has worked with children or in education for 30 years. She previously served as the second ward city council member in Girard, but moved out of city limits and had to vacate the seat.
"I had to leave the council, but I still have the desire to serve this community and our children," Peak said.
Marshall worked as an educator in the Girard school district, and Cheney worked as an educator and administrator.
Marshall said she would like to see an expansion in business courses, as well as options for music courses.
“I don’t think the school currently offers any accounting or entrepreneurial courses,” she said. “I would support that, and also like to see the music program come back. We have a lot of talented students who would like to have those options.”
Cheney said the vocational programs at Girard have always been strong, and we would like to see them continue to improve. He said the need for citizens who are skilled in a trade is growing.
“I would also support expansion in business courses because I see that as good vocational training,” he said. “I am in support of anything that helps prepare our students to be contributing members of society.
Peak and Coomes said the current council is working on a strategic plan and has been discussing adding more business oriented courses, which they support as well.
The election will take place November 7.
— Chance Hoener is a staff writer for the Morning Sun. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @ReporterChance.