At a city commissioner candidate forum, candidate discuss subjects of more intimate matters, like their vision for Dodge City's future, diversity, and their opinions on government transparency.
The second forum for City Commission candidates was held Thursday evening inside the Dodge City Public Library. Through the first forum held Saturday, March 16, the candidates addressed competition factors between Dodge City and Garden City, potential road construction investments and plans for downtown development. At their second go-around, candidate were subjects of more intimate matters, like their vision for Dodge City's future, diversity, and their opinions on government transparency.
In attendance were incumbents Kent Smoll and Rick Sowers, and challengers Jeff Turner, Joe Peters, Jan Scoggins, and Russell McBee. Liliana Zuñiga could not atttend.
Christopher Guinn and Margaret Butcher served as moderators.
"My vision is to continue to have good housing, restaurants and shopping centers," Sowers said to the first question of the night:
"What is your vision for Dodge City in 10 years and how would you achieve that?"
"I also think it's important to take care of what we have now," Sowers added. "In 10 years we'll see an improved and enhanced downtown and I'd like to see the Comanche project get through- out to the event center."
Turner followed by saying he'd personally like to see more retail development around the casino area, to develop that and utilize that with whatever means, including the use of Sales Tax Revenue Bonds. Turner would also like to shift focus on inner city streets like Central street that currently requires a 30 mph speed limit.
"I know we all drive above speed limit when traveling on that street," he said. "I want to have streets where we're able to shoot to the middle of Dodge in a timely fashion- we can do a street every few years. While outer growth is great, we can't forget about inner city things that also need improvement."
Peters said he'd like to take advantage of the "name brand recognition" that comes along with Dodge City and continue to build a strong entertainment foundation and in short, drive property taxes down.
McBee said his vision is to improve the housing shortage; a bigger city, bigger population, more retail and it all starts with the "atmosphere you provide to bring people in."
Smoll addressed the Amtrak railroad service stating their proposal for Kansas to be one of the states to fund a much need upgrade to the tracks by providing 4 million each year for the next ten years would most likely not happen. However, he hopes Dodge City can continue to have rail service and air service. He added the city needs to work on tourism and he hopes the city partners with businesses so that will continue to grow.
Scoggins said she would like to see improvements to the airport and agreed that while the city's hospitality is "amazing," more can be done with that with tourism.
The second question of the evening left candidates more pensive before they felt ready to shoot off their answer:
"Based on the 2010 Census, approximately 63% of Dodge City residents are non-white. Should the residents of Dodge City expect to see the city staff reflect the constituency it serves across the wage spectrum?"
Smoll was short and direct with his response, "We need to have Equal Opportunity Employment," he said. "I don't care what color you are as long as we have that."
Sowers agreed with Smoll saying Equal Opportunity Employment is number one priority, both believing the city has been meeting its obligation.
Ross felt that at the end of the day, everyone is a Dodge Citian, regardless of nationality and that residents should be looked at that way while Peters said there are federal regulations against discrimination and use law enforcement as an example.
Saying, "Law enforcement does not reflect the demographics we have now." He believes getting more involved to encourage employment diversity needs to be done and do better at promoting jobs.
Scoggins said it was a "complex issue" stating more can be done to embrace the different cultures in Dodge City.
The following question addressed transparency, asking:
"Kansas Statutes are a significant level of secrecy especially in matters of economic development, should the city be more open with the residents with potential investors or any other topic?"
Turner started off the discussion by saying he believed in being forthright about what's coming to town and in turn as it would eliminate rumors. He suggested every year residents receive a report on how much "Why Not Dodge" tax money was generated and a list of all projects the city has spent on.
Sowers argued the city already does such thing and will continue to do so.
"Jeff wants to know what projects the money is being spent on? It's in the budget., What the budget is going to be? It's in the budget," he said. "It's not very fun to read but it's all in the budget."
Sowers added that last year the city in fact, focused on this top and in efforts better deliver information and to maintain residents involved and informed, they hired a director of public information.
Peters said that while he agreed everyone could do a better job with transparency, it's a "two-way street" saying it's also citizens responsibility to "get out and get information."
Smoll said he believe every business deserves their privacy and he will not violate non-disclosure agreements.
The moderators asked their last question before taking questions from the audience:
"Why should people vote for you?"
Peters: "I would bring a fresh set of eyes, I have a lot of diverse experience, from retail to automotive to agriculture. I think I can come in, sit down and give new options, new ideas and new ways of negotiating."
Russ: "There's nothing special about me but I do feel I am a living proof that you can teach an old dog new tricks. I went from meat packing industry to administration in the education field and I've worked with government agencies. I've been around a little bit, got some common sense, I think. I think Dodge City is a great place to live, i've been here 30 years and I have intention of moving, I'm going to be around."
Smoll: "I'm experience, I'm trustworthy and I know numbers as a CPA. I care and I want Dodge City to be a better place to live."
Scoggins: "I listen. I listen to what you have to say. I will do my best to represent Dodge City residents, in every community i've lived in, I've left something positive there."
Sowers: "Because of my passion for Dodge City — my record for working with people in Dodge. We've done some great projects in the last eight years. I've built great relationships and projects could not of been done without those relationships. I try to put myself in everyone else's shoes, to listen to everyone and every side."
Turner: "My family and I love Dodge City. I don't anticipate we're going anywhere, I want my kids to have a great education and great opportunities. Whether I win or lose, this has been a great experience, I've met a lot of people I would've otherwise not met."