PITTSBURG — Seven candidates running for three open positions on the Pittsburg City Commission made their case, along with answering questions from the audience, at a candidate forum Monday.

The forum — moderated by Pittsburg Area Chamber of Commerce President Blake Benson — gave candidates the opportunity to answer prepared questions and questions from citizens. Candidates included current commissioners Michael Gray, John Ketterman and Patrick O’Bryan, as well as newcomers Sarah Chenoweth, Jacob Anselmi, Dawn McNay and Michael Fienen.

Prepared questions included the candidates’ top priorities for the next five years. Infrastructure, continued focus on services and economic development were top answers, while sustainability, improved child care and mental health were also mentioned.

“As far as Infrastructure, I think we’ve made some good moves, especially in terms of technology with fiber and other improvements,” Current Mayor Michael Gray said. “Something that hasn’t been mentioned is mental health and homelessness. I don’t necessarily think this is something the city should be paying for, but we need to be in the discussion for finding solutions to those issues.”

The candidates also discussed innovative initiatives they would like to see in Pittsburg.

“Innovation could be anything with sustainability, but lets narrow it down,” Anselmi said. “I’d like to look into turning the roofs of buildings downtown into green space, or creating an urban garden in an abandoned building — producing not only for Pittsburg, but Joplin and the region.

“That initiative could be part of a mental health program and bring in other organizations. The high tunnel is underway, but I think an urban produce center could be really helpful.”

Chenoweth agreed, but also saw benefit in looking at innovative ways to help with poverty in the city.

“I think that we need to work more on employing working class and poor citizens in our community,” she said. “Looking at some kind of innovations, whether tiny homes that meet codes, or a produce center to supply food, to help get people into homes and working in the community.”

Gray talked about staying up to date with technology to support entrepreneurial businesses, and Ketterman said he would like to see the city possibly become a municipal energy supplier.

Fienen would like to see the development of a data center to help with economic development, technology development and create information systems jobs that pay well and attract young workers.

O’Bryan said the city’s job isn’t necessarily to create innovative initiatives, but provide private entities with what they need to be innovative.

“The city’s job when it comes to innovation is to provide the foundation for entrepreneurs to build their business and expand their ideas here,” O’Bryan said. “We’re in a good spot with fiber and providing utilities, and should focus on fostering a workforce that is prepared to work for them so they can grow in Pittsburg, Kansas.”

The city is always looking for ways to attract young people or young families to Pittsburg. McNay said the strong institutions in place are points she would use to encourage young people to move to the city.

“Pittsburg has a lot of the things young families look for,” she said. “We have great choices in schools, a robust parks and recreation department, and we have a good employer base and opportunities for people to move up in businesses.

“The housing stock has some gaps, but the city working on that. The key thing is that areas that make the city strong — schools, businesses, health care — all continue to work together.”

Ketterman echoed her ideas, adding that the people of Pittsburg are a big reason to move here.

“The people in this community is what makes this town great,” he said. “Just going around and talking to people you’ll find out what you need to know about moving to this place. It’s a small community with a big city atmosphere.”

Audience members also submitted questions about support for a comprehensive plan for the city extending longer than five years into the future. Many of the candidates highlighted the need to plan for growth and make sure space and infrastructure is in place for that growth.

McNay said she believes an important part of any comprehensive plan is that it extends beyond the terms of those involved, so that no matter who is at the table, plans for growth can remain in place.

Fienen highlighted his experience working with analytics, and said a main function of the city commission is to continue adjusting long-term plans based on data.

“My background is partly in analytics. I love numbers and what numbers can tell you,” he said. “An effective strategy is all about planning and adjusting based on the numbers.”

Gray, Ketterman and O’Bryan currently serve on the city commission. Gray currently serves as mayor and has been on the commission since 2011. Ketterman has served on the commission for seven years, and O’Bryan has served on the chamber board, as well as several others in the community.

Fienen came to Pittsburg 17 years ago and has worked in web development for Pittsburg State University.

McNay worked for 18 years at Mt. Carmel Hospital — now Via Christi — and has worked the last six years at the Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas. She served on the Board of Education for USD 250, and currently works with the USD 250 Foundation and PSU Foundation.

Chenoweth works at the Safehouse Crisis Center, as well as owning a curbside recycling business with her husband. She also works with Women Helping Women.

Anselmi currently works as a videographer in the marketing and communications department at PSU. He — like many of the candidates — graduated from PSU.

— Chance Hoener is a staff writer for the Morning Sun. He can be emailed at choener@morningsun.net or follow him on Twitter @ReporterChance.