Dodge City Commissioner Rick Sowers is seeking reelection this April. His strengths as a student of infrastructure and technology will serve the city well as it looks toward long-term plans to update water pipes and roads, he said.
Commissioner Rick Sowers describes himself as an infrastructure guy. Where technology or infrastructure issues might make other commissioners' eyes glaze over, he wants to see it, touch it, learn it and in more than one case, smell it.
Sowers joined the ballot with five newcomers and another incumbent for the City Commission election on April 1.
Sowers first joined the city government as an appointed member of the "Why Not Dodge" special sales tax advisory board. The tax and its purpose had become highly politicized and partisan within the city and county and work had stalled, Sowers said.
He is "fact-oriented" and willing to make clear decisions based on those facts, he said.
"I didn't have any preconceived ideas about what it needed to be. I just knew it needed to be moved forward. I felt like I was pretty neutral," Sowers said. "It took people who really had the ability not to get their feelings hurt. Even some of the people who were really strongly against it started supporting us."
During his eight years on the Commission, Sowers, a native son of Dodge City, has been mayor for two stints and currently occupies the City Commission seat on the "Why Not Dodge" advisory board.
He often finds himself as the first commissioner to speak up during meetings, but this isn't without its risks, he says.
He laughs as he tells a story of a man who came into the Radio Shack he owns and recognized him from the public access station where Commission meetings are televised.
"You're getting smarter," the man, a veteran of municipal government in another city, told him. "You're not talking so much."
"It's really something I'm working on," he said.
Daily Globe: Why did you decide to run for office again?
Rick Sowers: There's so many interesting projects we're working on and have been working on for the last several years. We've started these projects and I'd like to see them to get to fruition, to get to a point where we have something final to present.
It's difficult to talk about some of these because they are so preliminary. We've been working on so many things. After the event center went under construction, city staff shifted gears and started working on retail development. We're getting closer to where that is going to become reality but we're just not at that point yet. There's so many exciting things coming to Dodge City and we're just on the leading edge of that.
DG: You own a retail business, what perspective does that bring to the City Commission?
RS: I can give them a perspective why retailers would want a certain position in the community as far as location. Cities tend to think infrastructure, they tend to think a particular plot or area needs to be developed because infrastructure already exists there. Sometimes that's not where retailers want to go because they have a different checklist.
We've talked a little bit about how the retail environment has changed. My family has been in the electronics business for 35 plus years. In the last five years we've had pretty dramatic changes in the retail environment.
That's the fear in me, a little bit. If you go too big into a lot of retail space too quickly, ten years from now is the retail environment going to support those big box stores like they're building in Garden City? A couple of those go out and you have a lot of square footage sitting there open in your community. You have to be smart about where that investment is and how big that investment is and how much investment you put into the community in those types of projects.
DG: From your perspective, what are the big issues facing Dodge City?
RS: We'll have to start planning on water pipe breaks and those kinds of issues. Sooner or later that's going to catch up to us that we're going to have a major infrastructure problem. Something is going to have to be a long term solution. Right now we've just been patching.
DG: You often seem to be the most willing to voice an opinion or ask a pointed question during City Commission meetings. Is this a role you are comfortable with?
RS: I try not to be the person who always talks. I really do. I've had a privilege to be with some really good commissions. I try to draw on their lessons to be quiet and listen and realize the moment when to speak. It's difficult for me because I tend not to have that filter on my brain. Sometimes it leads me into problems; I can think of a few times I probably put my foot in my mouth.
I'm very fact based. I have to have a lot of data. I don't get emotional with my responses very often. If you can get more data I'm better at that thought process.
DG: Contrary to that last question, some candidates have voiced concerns about the "openness" of the Commission, and the general lack of discussion in the public eye. Do you think that needs to be addressed?
RS: I rely on staff a lot of times to find things out, so I work with staff on a daily basis. When I get to a meeting, sometimes, I don't know if I've done so much work over the last two weeks on a particular item that maybe just internally I don't think I need to vocalize that.
I don't come to the meeting blind. I know where I'm going to be coming to the meeting unless something new is revealed during that meeting. I've probably done my homework prior to that.
I don't know if that's a bad thing, but I could see how someone comes to a meeting and it's pretty cut-and-dry and "here it is." But for two weeks, a month, two months before that I'm doing my homework every day.
DG: What would you call your signature achievements in your eight years on the Commission?
RS: It's going to be silly. You'd think it'd be the United Wireless Arena, but there are two things I really like: one is the extension of the walking path.
It's low maintenance to the city. It doesn't cost anybody to use it. It makes people de-stress, they're able to get out and walk and enjoy it and there's no cost to them, and everybody can go out and touch it. That's the part that I really like about it. There's no restrictions to it. Its' open 24 hours a day if you want to walk in the park.
Those are the kinds of projects I really like. If everybody can touch it then it's a neat project.
The other neat one to me, and it's probably because I like infrastructure, is probably the wastewater treatment plant. It's modern, it's new, it's going to be something our community will be able to grow with for 30 years, and it allows growth.
That's one of the things that has been frustrating on my side that it takes so much infrastructure to get us to the point of growth and people don't realize how long that takes and how hard it is to get that stuff in place. We've made millions of dollars in investment in the community and we need to see that growth through. We need to capitalize on that and realize that growth.