A group of about 20 people showed up at Peabody Senior Center Saturday evening for the candidate forum sponsored by the Peabody Gazette-Bulletin.
Presenting their thoughts on the problems that affect the city and their suggestion for solutions were two mayoral candidates and five of six candidates competing for three city council seats.
Mayoral candidates are incumbent Larry Larsen and challenger Frank Doerrler.
The three council members whose terms have expired are running for reelection. They are Pam Lamborn, Steve Rose, and David Scott. Challenging them for a chance to serve are Roxanne Dallke, Louis Litton, and Jim Philpott.
Of the six, Lamborn was the only one not participating. She was out of the state.
Rep. Bob Brookens was moderator.
The candidates had two minutes for introductory and closing statements and two minutes to answer five questions submitted in advance by constituents.
Larsen was the first candidate to offer an opening statement.
“My family has been in Marion County for several generations,” he said. “This is home to me and I have a vested interest in this community. I want it to move forward. I want to see us re-evaluate how we do things and try not to just go along with business as usual.”
He reviewed some of the projects implemented during his term, such as selling the industrial park north of U.S. 50 and moving the economic development program downtown to the Baker buildings.
“We re-established the street repair schedule and will be adding several newly surfaced streets this summer,” he said. “Hopefully we can attract some new families when we get the housing units finished; hopefully families with children. That will help the school and local businesses.
“I think the council we have now has worked hard to trim the budget and keep expenses down,” he added.
“The city government is a bloated bureaucracy,” he said. “I think the city has too much control over the citizens of this community. You all think like you are running a big city with a big budget. We can’t spend ourselves out of financial problems,” he said. “We need new people with new ideas. One idea I have is to do away with the police department and put cameras everywhere. Cover the entrances to the town with all kinds of cameras. If we could record what the criminals are doing, we would have them. We wouldn’t be paying so much in salaries then.”
Dallke was the first of the council candidates to introduce herself and tell why she was seeking a council seat.
“Mainly I am interested in going back to small town rules not big city rules. I think we forget how people used to be able to get by in this community,” she said. “I also want everyone to know that I am there to hear what you have to say. I look at this as my chance to give something back to Peabody.
“I will admit I don’t know everything, but I am willing to do my homework and learn. For instance I am not so sure about (the plans for) the Baker buildings,” she said with a shrug. “But I would listen and see what the people have to say.”
Litton said he was raised in Peabody and thought the city was being run like a large city.
“And the Baker buildings — doing anything with them is like pouring sand down a rat hole. You have been destroying the tax base by destroying all the rental property,” he said.
Litton also took exception to the number of employees the city has.
“When I was growing up two cops and two employees took care of everything. Now you got way too many people,” he said.
Philpott said he was appointed to fill a vacancy on the council back in 2009 and he was able to serve for seven months before resigning for personal reasons.
“I would like the opportunity to get back onto the council and try again,” he said. “I am interested in helping find ways to boost the economy and get additional jobs here.
“I was raised here and I want to raise my sons here. I know there has been change in this area and it is not as easy to earn a living in small towns, but I want to help keep Peabody schools and businesses open,” he said.
Rose told the audience he was a man of few words.
“I’m probably not going to use two minutes on any topic,” he said. “I have served on the city council for 12 years. I have seen the beginning and the end of the water project, the sewer project, and lots of smaller issues that hit us. I would like stay on long enough to see the Baker building project through — I think it will be good for Peabody.”
Scott said he arrived in Peabody during Memorial Day weekend 2008 to fill an administrative position at Legacy Park.
“I got involved with the economic development committee and shortly afterward Mr. Larsen asked if I would fill a position that had opened up on the city council,” he said. “I know that raised a few eyebrows because my family and I maintain a home in Topeka and I go back every weekend. But I also live here five days a week and I am a registered voter in Marion County — legally, those are the only requirements to serve on the council.
“You should also know that I have no ax to grind, I have no agenda, don’t owe anyone, and no one owes me,” he added. “Neither am I a ‘black and white’ thinker. I tend to view things in shades of gray. I think bringing that to the table has been helpful in many council discussions.”
Questions from constituents
Q: “What is the most vital issue facing Peabody and how will you address it if elected?”
Doerrler: The most vital thing is to make the city government smaller. You’ve got 37 employees and that’s too many. The cameras are an important part of that. They work 24 hours a day for pennies. That would certainly remove the need for the police.
You need to spend less money, not more to get the city out of financial trouble. You are not going to find that historical housing units are the same as low income housing units. Putting in historical stuff is going to cost more.
Larsen: The city has seven full-time employees and several other seasonal or part-time employees.
Most important is to attract families and maintain our school system. We need to attract businesses and jobs. We have managed some belt tightening and reduced the budget for two years when others are unable to do so.
To me the most important thing is to keep moving forward.
Litton: The most vital issues facing Peabody are no economy at all and there is no housing. Everyone who graduates from here can’t wait to move away because there is nothing here.
Government is too large and the current bunch on the council is just throwing money away.
Philpott: The biggest issue is the economy. Once again, we need businesses and we need to support the businesses we do have. Without businesses and jobs we are losing our young people. And when people start leaving, you start losing other things too.
I would work toward trying to stop that trend.
Rose: I agreed economic development is vital. We address it by relying on the economic development committee and director we have in place. They can bring in businesses to fill the Baker buildings. We all need to work toward that end.
Dallke: Economic development also is critical to the city. I certainly think we need to attract new businesses. But we also need to work harder to support those businesses that are already here. We all need to check the local stores before taking our money somewhere else.
The other thing for me is the quality of the water. It is really bad. I don’t know what we need to do about it — this is all new to me. It will take some time for me to catch up. But I am willing to learn.
Q: The mill levy has been stable for two years. How would you keep community services without raising the mill levy?
Philpott: I can’t promise that I wouldn’t vote to raise the mill levy. Costs on everything are going up. For instance in the police department, the city sends someone to training for 14 weeks, the recruit comes back, serves his year, gets a higher paying job offer in another city and leaves. Then we have to train another one. The problem is that Peabody is not competitive and we lose good officers to cities with more to offer. So there might be a scenario out there where I would vote to increase taxes.
Rose: The council has been working with department heads to help them trim their budgets. Everyone is trying. We’ll see if it’s enough to keep the mill levy down.
Scott: The finance committee has been reviewing expenditures and department staffing. We are trying to stay on top of expenses.
Dallke: This is also a gray area for me, too. I looked over the current budget and I was lost. But if they have been able to keep it down for two years, they’re doing something right.
Litton: There was still more that could be done.
They just need to trim the fat. I have had my own business and I know that if you don’t have money for something, you don’t buy it.
And years ago everyone wanted to hook up to Harvey County water, but ‘oh no!’ And we didn’t. And now it’s still bad and no one wants to move here.
Larsen: The city has cut overtime wages and put the employees on a comp-time plan to give them days off instead of additional wages. We want to be able to maintain jobs and keep our employees, but we need to trim expenses too. I think we have worked hard to treat our people fairly and yet give the tax payers some relief. I think we will continue to look at these issues creatively when we are seeking answers.
Doerrler: You can’t expect people to work for nothing — but again, the example of the cameras. That is a creative solution to the expense of all those officers and cars. And nothing ever gets solved. You had the graffiti and tearing up tombstones, the flag desecration, and they were never solved. With cameras you would know immediately who did the vandalism.
Q: What idea would you propose to move Peabody forward in tough economic times?
Doerrler: I think we should rename the city. I think we should call it the Emerald City. No one else has it and it would be good marketing. We could get a manufacturing plant up and going and they could make souvenirs like the Tin Man and the Lion. They would put them in our stores and when tourists come through to see the Emerald City, they would buy them. Industry like that would do well here.
The stuff would sell during the festivities Peabody has. I think changing the name is exciting and I think it would work. We could do new things being the Emerald City.
Larsen: Any move forward would come when the Baker apartments were leased and it is time to recruit businesses to move into the lower level. I look at that as the turning point for the community. This is a real opportunity for us.
Rose: I remember a time when a local woman came to the council and said she was not interested in seeing Peabody grow. She said, ‘this is my town and I like it the way it is — I don’t want it to change.’ And it’s been stagnant. But now we have an opportunity we’ve never had before. My money is on developing the Baker buildings.
Scott: There are two businesses that relate to the nursing home. Enhanced day care in the community would be a plus for many of my employees. Something besides the usual nine to five hours. That would be an opportunity for someone. And a program to run a home health care business for seniors could be developed locally. It would be a service people would use — help them stay in their homes longer and be independent. That’s a pretty important issue and people would pay for the service.
Dallke: Thinking outside the box might help local businesses forge ahead. I agree we need to support the businesses we have. But maybe the businesses should be a little creative too. How about staying open one night a week for people who work out of town? Or maybe talk with the economic development committee to get some ideas for meeting the needs of the community?
Litton: The council has had numerous years to solve these problems, but they have only spun their wheels. I believe it’s just time for new blood. If we keep going on this way the town will gone in 10 years, maybe in five years.
Philpott: When we found out Baker’s was leaving it was like being punched. But back then there was no place for anyone to go who wanted to open a business. We had the industrial park, but that would have been a huge expense. Now we have a place to put them because we put the focus downtown where buildings are available. I think that is our future.
Q: How would you address Peabody’s declining population?
Scott: People need jobs, they need a reason to stay here. There is a significant shortage of livable, affordable housing. Without jobs and without quality housing, the population will not rebound.
Dallke: I think we need to get back to small town values. We aren’t getting anywhere running this like a large city. There are too many rules and regulations if someone does buy a house to fix up and make livable housing.
Litton: City ordinances are way too strict. They should be more liberal. The city government is too big.
Philpott: Really, Peabody is a great place to be in a crisis. You really get a sense of belonging. This is a great place to raise a family and a great place to live. If we could stimulate the economy and convince others to give us a try that would help with the population. Maybe we could work on getting people to come back here after college. It’s a good place to be.
Rose: Economics, economics, economics.
Larsen: Peabody lost less population than other towns in Marion County. We need to concentrate on attracting people and supporting business.
Doerrler: We should recruit a college. Not necessarily a four-year university, but maybe a two-year college or an online school like the University of Phoenix. That way we could educate the kids here and not send all that money for room and board to another town. That might be a way to get them to stay here when they are done.
Q: What is the top priority for the city and how do we address it?
Doerrler: We need educated people in place, educated people running the city. And those people need to cut the government down to where it is manageable and efficient.
Larsen: The city needs a council that is forward-looking. Yes, we need to cut waste where we can and I think we are doing that. But we also need to know who we are, we need to realize there is no quick fix. By supporting the community, families, and our school system we can move forward.
Dallke: The city needs to get back to basics. I have no quick answers to our problems. Some things will take time, but I would like to hear from the public also. If you have ideas, I would like to hear them.
Litton: Without economic development and housing you have no town. I’ve seen this town go from thriving to dying. We need new blood. The old guard has been running things too long.
Rose: The city needs to move forward with the Baker building development. Get it going, put something in there and then market the community. Sitting around talking about it isn’t going to get it done. We need to move ahead.
Scott: I would say a priority is the need for participation. I would hope if we had this same meeting a week from now, we would have 10 times the people attending. We have lots of groups and individuals who have an interest in the community, who care about Peabody. They need to get involved, express their ideas. They need to participate.
“If you don’t have the money, don’t spend it,” Litton said. “We need rental housing. And we need to trim the fat. It shouldn’t take three people to read the water meters.”
Rose said he would appreciate the votes of those in attendance.
“I have served 12 years and I would like to finish the projects we have started,” he said. “We’ve made some changes that will mean a lot and I’d like to continue to serve.”
The community and its volunteer spirit impressed Scott.
“I like Peabody,” he said. “I like the town, most people, the facility, my work, and my colleagues. Peabody people have a strong desire to serve and be part of the things they care about. With more participation, the community can be anything.”
Dallke thanked her father, Randy for encouraging her.
“I have a great mentor — my father. He is all about this town and has served it for years,” she said. “If I needed his advice or help, I could call him.”
Doerrler also credited Randy Dallke with encouraging him to run for office.
“When I got here, Randy Dallke was one of the first people I met,” he said. “I was upset about something that occurred at my property and he said to me, ‘if you don’t like it, run for mayor, and fix it.’ So that’s what I’m doing.
“I believe I’m the most qualified and eligible person for the job. I’ve told you some of my ideas. I have more. We need to get something going and I’d appreciate your vote.”
Larsen wound up the evening with a challenge.
“No one you folks have heard tonight has said they know all the answers,” he said. “So I challenge you to learn more about your city and its government. Come to the council meeting, ask questions, and find out the facts. Make suggestions and help the council help the city. We’re all in this together. Everyone needs to participate.”