PITTSBURG — The Crawford County Democrats sponsored a Local Elected Official Forum on Wednesday at the Pittsburg Public Library, where various officials as well as members of the public discussed a variety of issues ranging from the process of running for office to finding funding for projects such as expanding Route 69.
“On the city and county level, how much does party politics enter into your operations?” asked Pittsburg resident Joe Beauchamp.
Several of those in attendance said partisanship doesn’t play a huge role locally.
“What it comes down to is you try to come up with common sense solutions to get stuff done, and it really doesn’t matter, or shouldn’t matter” what party officials belong to, Crawford County Commissioner Bruce Blair said.
County Clerk Don Pyle echoed that sentiment.
“I know I hear of clerks that don’t like their treasurers or they don’t get along with their register of deeds or the commissioners, and I just sit there and think, you know, ‘what’s wrong with you people?’” Pyle said.
“I mean we have some disagreements but not very often, not serious, we’re all I think pulling for the same goal in trying to do the right thing.”
Caleb Smith, a Pittsburg resident and Southeast Kansas campaign director with the group Kansas Appleseed, described on its website as “a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization dedicated to vulnerable and excluded Kansans,” asked the officials what it was like to campaign on a small budget for a local elected office.
Trista Shuster, a member of the USD 247 Board of Education in Cherokee, said she was approached to serve on the board.
“So I got appointed, and now I don’t really have to run,” Shuster said. She would have looked into getting onto the school board earlier, Shuster said, if she knew she wouldn’t have to do much campaigning.
Pittsburg City Commissioner Dawn McNay, who previously served on the Pittsburg USD 250 School Board, said an important consideration in campaigning is for candidates to visit areas of the city or district where they’re running that they might not usually go to.
“And don’t throw your signs away,” she said.
County Register of Deeds Sandy Casey also discussed some of the unexpected questions candidates on the campaign trail might get asked by voters.
“There were times when people asked me issues — ‘what do you think about medical marijuana?’ — you know, I’m like, ‘I’m running for register of deeds,’” Casey said, to laughter from other forum attendees. “But you need to be ready for those kind of questions because it makes a difference to them. It doesn’t make a difference in my position, I don’t have anything to do with that in my position whatsoever, but it makes a difference to the person voting for you.”
Aside from campaigning, elected officials also face challenges once they’re in office.
County Commissioner Blair discussed some of the issues the county commission is currently dealing with, such as potentially finding funding to assist the struggling Southeast Kansas Recycling Center, or to pay for work on the Highway 69 expansion project that the commission unexpectedly learned it would be responsible for in March.
“I think everything’s going to be fine and on schedule,” Blair said of the Highway 69 project. “We’ll see, but right now we’re not holding up the project. That’s the number one goal for us.”
Despite the problems they are tasked with solving, often with little compensation, however, there are also things that are nice about being an elected official.
“I would say that it’s very rewarding to be able to serve in the community where you grew up,” Frontenac Mayor Linda Grilz said, “and to feel like you’re affecting change in a very positive way.”