April 24, 2014

Commission candidates square off in debate

Danedri Thompson
dthompson@gardnernews.com
The real debate was the difference between the candidates for two open seats

Johnson County Board of Commissioners candidates Calvin Hayden, top left; John Toplikar, top right; Steve Klika, bottom left; and Terry Presta, bottom right; faced off in a debate on Tuesday evening.

on Johnson County Board of Commissioners seats.

Four candidates for two open seats faced off Monday night. Candidates Steve Klika and Terry Presta vie to replace David Lindstrom on the commission. Lindstrom represents Spring Hill and parts of Overland Park on the board. In the sixth district, which includes Gardner and Edgerton, incumbent Calvin Hayden faces John Toplikar.
All four candidates are Republicans, although elections for the commission are nonpartisan.
“This is going to be a tough decision,” Klika said in his closing statement. “We’re all in favor of basic conservative values here.”
Presta and Hayden, however, both said the choices between the candidates are clear.
“As I look at this, we call each other opponents, and that’s exactly what we are,” Hayden said in his closing. He said there’s a difference in work ethic between him and his opponent, Toplikar.

“When you call me, I will pick up the phone. If you ask me a question, I will find an answer,” Hayden said.
In his closing statement, Presta worried that his opponent, Klika, wants to spend additional money for more transportation services in the county.
“I’m absolutely for funding core services and not anything over that,” Presta said.
Toplikar said services to the disabled and elderly should be considered core, but that the county’s budget increased from $763 million to $815 million in the last four years.
“That’s an increase of $79 million during a recession,” Toplikar said.
Toplikar is a former Kansas representative and served on the board of county commissioners for six years before narrowly losing by 42 votes to Hayden in 2008. Following the election, Toplikar pleaded guilty to stealing one of campaign signs. He received diversion.
Campaign signs did come up in the debate when an audience member asked whether candidates were placing signs on private property with the owners’ permission.

Toplikar said signs are a touchy subject, and that he has not placed signs in any locations without permission.
“I’ve had signs stolen out of my yard,” Toplikar said. “To me, the $815 million (county budget) is more important. I’ll sacrifice my yard signs.”
Hayden has 82 large yard signs up with permission.
“That’s why they’re all still up,” he told the crowd of approximately 60 people.
During the debate, a moderator asked a series of questions on everything from the United Nations’ Agenda 21 to partisan elections. The candidates did not agree on whether the county commission elections should be partisan or non-partisan.
Klika said he’s a lifelong Republican but that he’s comfortable with the existing nonpartisan elections. Under the current system, candidates are discouraged from identifying their political party affiliation. And rather than a partisan primary, the field is narrowed to the top two vote earners in the primary regardless of their party identification.
Presta said he is in favor of partisan elections, while Hayden expressed mixed emotions on the topic.

“As an incumbent, I’d love it,” he said. However, he said incumbents have an advantage in partisan elections. “But as four years ago, I’d have said no. Leave it this way.”
Toplikar disclosed that he has served as a Republican precinct committeeman for at least 15 years, and that he puts the Republican elephant logo on his campaign signs.
“Free speech trumps anything we do here in Johnson County,” Toplikar said.
The candidates also disagreed on the county commission’s decision last February to buy the former King Louie building. Commissioners agreed to make the $2 million purchase using reserves and spend another $1.6 million to shore up the dilapidated building that was once used as a bowling alley and ice skating center. In the future, the King Louie will house a county museum about suburbia.
“I would have more fun in a bowling alley than a museum,” Toplikar said. “I would’ve voted no.”
Hayden supported the purchase and said there’s been a lot of misinformation about the county’s decision. The facility will eventually house a bussing center, which will save the county money, and selling that old bussing center will generate $1 million.
“This building will pay for itself in 10 years,” Hayden said. “I supported it.”
Klika and Presta also expressed concerns about the purchase, which Hayden said was made using funds set aside by previous commissioners for capital outlay projects.
In all, candidates answered eight questions from the moderator and a handful of questions from audience members.
Voters will have the final say in the general election on Nov. 6.

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