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Candidate forumUnified Government Commission candidates Hal Walker, left, and T.J. Reardon had some differences of opinion. They appeared at a candidate forum Wednesday night at Kansas City Kansas Community College. (Photo by Debra DeCoster)
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Candidate forumCandidate Ann Murguia answered questions during a candidate forum Wednesday night at Kansas City Kansas Community College. (Photo by Debra DeCoster)
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Candidate forumCandidate Mark Holland answered a question during the Wednesday night candidate forum at Kansas City Kansas Community College. (Photo by Debra DeCoster)
A candidates’ forum on Wednesday night showed a few differences between the mayoral candidates, Mark Holland and Ann Murguia, in Kansas City, Kan.
While agreeing on some overall concepts such as more economic development, the ways the candidates said they would achieve them were sometimes different.
The forum, sponsored by the Kansas City, Kan., Area Chamber of Commerce and 15 other groups including KCKCC, the Black Chamber of Commerce, the Women’s Chamber of Commerce, and several other groups from throughout the city including neighborhood business revitalization groups. An estimated 75 to 100 people attended.
Holland won the primary election by a 2-to-1 margin over Murguia.
“We have the opportunity to continue the momentum we have and take it to the next level,” Holland said in his closing remarks.
Murguia, who was endorsed by the third-place candidate, Nathan Barnes who had 19 percent of the primary vote, read a list of her endorsements, including many labor unions, during her closing remarks.
She also talked about her achievements of redeveloping the Argentine area and how she could help the UG redevelop other areas of the community.
The Unified Government Commission will have at least three new faces, and some difference of opinion was expressed about how the candidates for mayor would approach bringing the commission together.
Ann Murguia said all the commissioners would need to be on the same page, and understand what each other was trying to do for their districts. She advocated a survey county-wide by district, so each could understand the priorities of the district. It is likely that priorities will vary from district to district, she added. After a survey is taken, it could be used to help set the spending priorities for each district.
Mark Holland said that the week after the new commission takes office, the UG will be going into a budget meeting and there will be no time to wait for a survey. Commissioners already have listened to their constituents and know what their districts want, he said.
The candidates had different answers to a question on how the mayor candidates will deal with their commitment to reduce the mill levy in the next four years, while at the same time maintaining or improving local services, as the state may cut funding for some local government services.
Holland noted that state funding cuts have cost the community millions both to the UG and to the school districts. He called for more lobbying and also taking a strong stance in Topeka, and also addressing city services in order not to be caught short.
Murguia, saying she had promised she would not vote for a tax increase in 2007 and has not voted for one, said that first she would determine the priorities of people in Wyandotte County and find ways to get it done, possibly partnering with others in Wyandotte County. Second, she would start growing economic development east of I-635, an area that now is growing poverty at a faster rate than the west side is developing. She would expect increased development in the east to result in a stronger tax base.
The candidates also had some comments about new technology such as the Google Fiber project and what the community could do to capitalize on it.
“The window of opportunity for Google Fiber is right now,” Holland said. Google Fiber is now announcing it will expand to Olathe next. The community needs to act in the next 12 to 18 months in attracting new businesses before the rest of the community gets the technology, he noted.
Murguia said it was important to have the new mayor go out and aggressively market Wyandotte County. She also pointed out that in some parts of the community, including Rosedale, the Startup Village and Village West, there is now momentum, but in other areas there doesn’t seem to be momentum. “There are great opportunities in other areas in our community,” she said.
She said that developing western Wyandotte County was very different from developing eastern Wyandotte County. The east side needs more involvement of citizens there, who need to feel confident in their area in order to stay there, she said. Murguia has worked to build new homes in the Argentine neighborhood, as well as getting a new grocery store, new retail stores and helping with the new library in the district.
Holland agreed that it was easier to develop the “greenfields,” which refers to previously undeveloped land. He said the current UG government has had some success in developing other areas such as 18th and I-70, and 78th and State. There is redevelopment starting at Indian Springs and downtown.
In another candidate appearance, a little friction was noticed between candidates T.J. Reardon and Hal Walker, running for commissioner at large, District 2. There is no incumbent in the contest, as Commissioner John Mendez is not seeking re-election.
When asked his top three budget priorities, T.J. Reardon, a long-time critic of the local government, said transparency was the top priority, then he talked about the UG budget increasing $200 million over the years, high salaries, and that the UG was killing itself with interest on its debts. He said his second priority would be to get rid of whoever is doing the budget.
Walker responded that rhetoric is one thing, but the reality is that everyone’s budget has increased greatly through the years. Walker said his priorities would be to reduce the real property tax burden, and to provide basic services such as roads and sewers extremely well.
“This is about knowledge, experience and character,” said Walker, a retired UG attorney who has worked with the local government over 30 years. “He has no plan.”
There was about a half-hour devoted to each contest, and local voters may see the entire forum, with more detailed answers, at a future date on the KCKCC cable television station, channel 17. A schedule is expected to be announced soon, according to forum organizers.
In all, six contests for mayor and UG commissioner were on the Wednesday night forum program.
At 6 p.m. Thursday, March 21, at the KCKCC Performing Arts Center, candidates for Board of Public Utilities, District 2; Board of Public Utilities at large, District 2; Kansas City, Kan., Public Schools Board of Education; and Kansas City Kansas Community College Board of Trustees will appear at a public forum.