City Commission candidate Russ McBee said the city government should focus on fiscal responsibility and the encouragement of free enterprise rather than think it could or should put its finger on the scale.
The City Commission should be wary of reaching into issues best handled by the power of the markets, from housing to retail and downtown development, he said in an interview with the Globe. The motive for profit is honest and the results are accurate.
McBee has been a resident of Dodge City for 29 years after moving from Wichita and his eclectic work experience has put him in connection with a variety of industries, from lumber to beef and for the last 7 years, higher education.
"I'm proof you can teach a dog a second trick," he said. "All of those are completely diverse businesses from one another. I've picked up things from all of them to help round out my common knowledge and decision-making abilities."
As a commissioner, he said he will focus on responsible spending and common sense decisions.
As the director of financial aid at Dodge City Community College, McBee spends much of his time dealing with the complex state and federal regulations that determine how grants and loans are awarded.
At an earlier job managing a freezer next to the Cargill plant, he also dealt with USDA regulators and inspectors.
"I know my way around red tape a little bit," he said.
McBee will face six other candidates in the election on April 1. Registered Dodge City voters can select up to three candidates on the ballot. The top two candidates will win four-year terms. The candidate in third place will win the seat for two years.
Dodge Globe: Why did you decide to run for the City Commission?
Russ McBee: I'd like to get involved. So many people don't know what's going on with the city behind the scenes because they don't take the time to check it out. I'm guilty of that too, but I decided it was time to get involved.
DG: What particular issues drew you into the race?
RM: I don't have an axe to grind. I just would like to be sure that tax dollars are being spent efficiently. I'm not in this for a career — if it's "one term and done" I'm OK with that. I want to be more knowledgeable in what's going on and have a hand in making sure common sense prevails.
DG: What are your thoughts on the proposed water park?
RM: I believe it could be a good thing. I don't know that much about what is being proposed, but if it incorporates a regular swimming pool that could be used for competition, I think that would help it.
Page 2 of 3 - My biggest fear is seeing it become something like the Family Fun Center, something that is open for a year then is cost prohibitive, and there's no traffic, so they just close it. That would be my biggest fear, that it's not going to be used. I think it needs to be done in such a manner that it will attract people and support itself.
I hope it would be something that is not managed by the city. I think management should be contracted out to somebody who wants to do it for a profit because they will be more efficient — like the arena.
DG: Do you think the city could be doing more to encourage retail development?
RM: I know there has been development, retail business that has gone to Garden City instead of Dodge City. I'm not sure to what extent there have been any negotiations to get them to come to Dodge City. I do find that to be something we need to spend more effort on. I don't know that there hasn't been plenty of effort expended on that. If it's not working, maybe we need to look at doing something different.
DG: The housing market has had some successes, but it's still tight. Is there something you think the city could be doing better?
RM: We build houses so fast, I drive around town and am shocked to see how many houses were built and I wasn't aware of it.
You can only do so much in an amount of time. I say let the free market prevail and let the houses be built if there's a demand out there — they'll sell. And there's certainly a demand.
DG: Do you think the city should get involved in the college's plan to build a new student activities center?
RM: I don't believe the city necessarily needs to be funding that; I would like to see them supporting that. I know that the college is working on ways to support that. Grant money from FEMA, for example. I know there would be some community benefit from it, but I don't know if the city needs to be throwing money at it.
DG: One of your opponents is focusing her campaign on downtown renovation. Is that something you think the city should be more involved in?
RM: I don't know what they could do with the buildings. I think that once again, that's a private industry, free enterprise thing. If somebody thinks it's feasible to go in and refurbish these buildings and put businesses in them or convert the upstairs to apartments and they can make a living doing that, then great.
Page 3 of 3 - The city doesn't need to be involved in that kind of thing. The people who are tenants in those buildings now will keep them up, and if not, they'll fall down and something else will end up being built there. I don't think that's something the city necessarily needs to chase. If the city can help someone qualify for some kind of funding from the state or federal government to renovate that stuff, fine.
I think it should be completely a supportive role and not a "sugar daddy" role where they're handing out money.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.