Candidates for the two open Gardner city council seats recently attended a forum at the Gardner Grange building, sponsored by the Gardner VFW. The four candidates are Michael Blanchard, Scott Smith, Mark Baldwin and Randy Gregorcyk. Two forums were held back to back, on Sept. 21 and 22: for the mayor candidates of Gardner and Edgerton and USD 231 board of education. BOE responses will be featured in the Oct. 4 edition of The Gardner news. Photo courtesy of Rick Poppitz

Rick Poppitz
Special To The Gardner News
Gardner VFW Post 11234 hosted candidate forums at the Grange building on the fairgrounds on back to back nights last week. On the first night, Sept. 21, the forum featured the four city council candidates who are running to fill two open council seats.
The four candidates are – Michael Blanchard, Scott Smith, Mark Baldwin and Randy Gregorcyk.
The forum began with each candidate introducing themselves, followed by a series of questions and concluding with closing remarks.
Below are some of the questions asked and partial answers.

Question 1 – What community programs or organizations do you participate in?
Blanchard said he was a member of the Rotary Club, the GE Chamber of Commerce, serves on the city’s Streets, Sewer and Sidewalks Committee, the downtown corridor Steering Committee and the Festival on the Trails board.
Smith said he was involved with Sacred Heart Catholic Church and the Gardner Community Garden.
Baldwin said he was a member of the same church, Knights of Columbus, works with Boy Scouts and has served on the Utility Advisory Commission for seven years, currently as chairman.
Gregorcyk said he was a current member of the Economic Advisory Board, Knights of Columbus, member of Divine Mercy, works with local Boy Scouts, and is a member of the downtown corridor Steering Committee.

Question 2 – Unexpected life events aside, will you be available to make all work sessions and council meetings, so quorum is always present to conduct business?
All candidates said they would.

Question 3 – Are you able to make a decision that may not be right for family and friends but will be to the citizens of Gardner? Example: Fireworks may be fun to family and friends, but the citizens of Gardner would like a shorter time period when they are allowed.
Baldwin – “At the end of the day, we’re representing all of you, so if there’s a majority that have an opinion that disagree with mine, I may voice my concerns, but I’d have to go with what the public is wanting.”
Gregorcyk – “You have to be respectful of your constituents. It is an at large seat, and we need to be respectful of all constituents and not make it an uncomfortable situation for those constituents to share their opinion. Despite what my opinion is, I’m here to serve and work for the community.”
Blanchard – “You can’t have everything you want all the time – you have to please other people. My job, if I have an opinion on something, will be to try to best sell that to the public, but at the end of the day, I work for the people who elect me, so doing what’s best for everyone is what I will do.”
Smith – “What’s right is right and what’s wrong is wrong – you don’t always do the most popular thing, you do what’s right. […] Sometimes making an unpopular decision is something you have to do. If it’s not popular with friends and neighbors, but it’s the right thing for the city, I’ll do it.”

Question 4 – Have you benefited in any way financially or politically from sale or permits of fireworks July 4, 2017?
Gregorcyk and Blanchard said “ no.” Smith and Baldwin said they had not benefited financially, but they had campaigned at fireworks stands.

Question 5 – The city of Gardner has a fireworks display at Celebration Park. Do you think there should be no restrictions on the size, type or period of time and days allowed when using fireworks in Gardner?
Blanchard – “While I think that pulling them back and doing some restrictions would help a lot, I think you just have to find a way that can make everyone happy. So if it’s putting a restriction on what type of fireworks it is, how many days you can do them, I’m totally for all that. That is what people that have contacted me have expressed. I know there’s lots of different opinions, we just have to find a balance that works for everybody.”
Smith – “The negotiable part for me would be maybe the days. […] The size and type – I didn’t see really a big problem with that. […] Now I’ve noticed the last two years that when the curfew happens, when time to stop the fireworks happens, they stop for the most part. A few people went on longer but it didn’t seem to be as big a problem as it was when it was illegal.”
Baldwin – “Overwhelmingly, fireworks are accepted and enjoyed. There are a few that dislike them, and that varies from get rid of them completely to reduce the time, reduce the days, don’t allow big mortar shells, etc., etc. So, since we introduced fireworks by doing a poll to see what the public thought in the first place, I suggest we do another poll to see what the public still thinks. If the poll says we still want them, and we want to have this restriction or that restriction or this many hours or whatever, then we can go forward from there. But right now from what I hear, everybody’s pretty happy.”
Gregorcyk – “I think within the permitting process we need to identify what is not allowed so we can try to suppress some of these larger fireworks from going off. […] As I said before, I think that fireworks need to be done on July 3rd and July 4th and then back to polls and citizen input. We need to understand the timeline of that as we move forward.”

Question 6 – There are four candidates running for two open seats. Are you running your campaign as an individual candidate or as a team of candidates?
Smith – “I’m running as an individual candidate, but most people see me around town with Mark Baldwin because we really don’t disagree with each other on much. So it’s pointless to run against Mark, and just knowing that there are two seats open. I’m going to vote for Mark and hopefully he’ll vote for me. […] We have over 20,000 people in this town to reach, get our literature out to – and that’s a lot of work. We pretty much worked one side of the street to another to get our information out there as fast as we can. But as an individual, yes, I stand on my own.”
Baldwin – “When I’m sitting on the dais, if so elected, they’re going to ask what my vote is, so I have to represent myself. I campaign as myself and tell you what I think. I may be working with someone else as a friend and partner in trying to get my literature out, but at the end of the day, you have to represent yourself. Otherwise, who are you representing?”
Gregorcyk – “My strategy is to run on my three items. Safety, at the end of the day, is so important to me and my family and you and your family. Budget minded – we need to understand what the city’s budget is, about $60 million dollars, and we need to live within those parameters. And then growth – I think many of us would love to be able to cut out 45 minutes a day one way to travel to work, to have more work in this town. […] It’s very important to me to run on my own credit.”
Blanchard – “I enjoy good debate. I’m not afraid of standing with my opinion against someone else, talking it out and finding common ground. When it comes to this part, I want people to get the opportunity to know me, and I don’t see any reason to do it any other way.”

Question 7 – Do you think the current council meetings are presenting a tone that reflects the community and is setting a good example of leadership? What would you like to see changed, if anything and why?
Baldwin – “It would be nice if we could conduct business efficiently. Get up there, do what we need to do and move on. Instead sometimes there’s bickering. Not debating – bickering. And that has to stop. If we can’t look professional how are we going to be professional? So that would be my main improvement, to actually follow Robert’s Rules and if that means we need to update the governing rules and procedures, again, then we should do that.”
Gregorcyk – “I need to respect myself and respect others, and I think that we need to remind elected officials how important that is. If we’re respecting each other then I believe we’re listening to each other. […] And to Mark’s point, that council meetings are able to run a little smoother instead of getting off base and going down rabbit holes. I’m running because I want to be an added value to our city and bring that professionalism and that courtesy and that respect.”
Blanchard – “In the time I’ve had in leadership I don’t recall any leadership training or any point where leadership was determined by your ability to belittle the people who work underneath you, whether that’s staff, co-workers, partners. There’s places and more professional ways to handle it. I don’t think it’s appropriate to take it to the extremes it goes to. […]  You have a meeting, and you work it through and you settle your differences and you move on. That’s what leadership is about.”
Smith – “Civil conversation is always needed, and respect always needs to be shown, but to get things done, to get things changed, sometimes it takes somebody who can go in there and root through to find the problems, confront those that may be causing problems, and it can get ugly. But in the end the goal is to make Gardner a better place. Some people use the, quote, lack of civility – and I don’t see anything that’s really uncivilized. There’s some debate though, there’s obviously some spirited debate in our council, and I think that’s healthy. And people who can’t stomach it need to understand that’s what needs to go on sometimes to make things happen and get things fixed.”

Question 8 – Do you think that Facebook or other types of social media should be used to vent frustrations with city employees or to argue with citizens who have stated their opinions on an issue?
Gregorcyk – “From a political perspective I really stick to scold in private, praise in public. I don’t need to get on social media and scold somebody. Now as a politician duly elected, if I am scolded on social media, that’s just part of it. You got to have thick skin, you have to understand that you’re going to get shots from your community, the citizens that voted for or against you. […] Otherwise, social media should be used like a PSA, Public Service Announcement.”
Blanchard – “I’m pretty sure that the governance policy that we have addresses this – that says that we’re not supposed to speak directly to city employees, which should automatically indicate that it’s not my job to scold anyone. […] Our job is to hear things that are presented, weigh them, measure them and make decisions on them. So, no, using social media to go after people that are employees or work for the city – no.”
Smith – “There’s some keyboard commandos out there that feel pretty big behind the computer but once they get in front of you face to face they aren’t that tough. As a council member you walk a fine line out there on social media, and you got to be careful what you say and what you do. I don’t say you have to stay off of it, but you have to be very factual and can’t really be personal. You got to be very careful with it and really limit it.”
Baldwin – “With the city staff, communication, to me, should be directed through the city administrator and then that can be forwarded to whomever she deems necessary. […] As far as the general public and social media, I don’t see a problem with putting out information to share […] a council page, if you have one, should be professional. So, putting out information is one thing, getting into fights is another. I don’t believe you should be fighting with constituents. I’m more than happy to answer an email or a phone call, or show up at somebody’s house and have a debate. But to air your dirty laundry and have everybody get into it – it just doesn’t work on social media.”

Question 9 – Many people follow politics online – some people in Gardner think the campaign has gone too negative. Based on what you have seen, what is your opinion on this?
Blanchard – “Social media is a place a  lot of people got to follow politics and get their information. I think there is a difference between attacking people and putting out information. If someone puts out information that is not pleasant, but it’s true, then it is what it is in that situation. The use of it has to be somewhat measured.”
Smith – “Social media is a great way to get your message out. I’ve been very careful and really haven’t had any desire to go negative on my pages. […] I share information about myself, but it’s really not a good place to [go negative] on your opponent, and honestly that just wastes time. I’m getting my message out door to door, and I’m putting information out on my website. I’m keeping positive and getting good results from it obviously, and I plan to continue to do that.”
Baldwin – “One of the things that I think gets muddied is – what’s negative? There’s a fine line between asking a difficult question and finding out what somebody is really doing or thinking and then just putting out something that sounds like there’s a conspiracy. So asking questions is one thing but putting out arguments for the sake of trying to stir the pot, to me, just distracts from whatever issues there are.”
Gregorcyk – “Social media is a component of running a campaign in the 21st Century. I strive to stay positive, and I also try to answer every question I could, sometimes privately and sometimes publicly. […] It’s back to scold in private, praise in public. […] It’s a great tool for information, a great tool to rally people of like mindedness, but it’s a double edge sword that can cut both ways.”

Question 10 – Please explain your position on the following: a local brick and mortar business downtown that pays taxes and utilities and currently posts the legal notices, what is your stance on keeping or moving this function from the Gardner News and why?
Smith – “It’s something that I feel, as well as some of the other council members that we’re paying too much for our service. […] If they want to match the prices of their competitors we can stick with them but if not then we need to look elsewhere.”
Baldwin – “Short answer – pay the least amount, whoever that is. […] This is the taxpayers’ dollars, my dollars and your dollars, and we should be doing it the cheapest way possible.”
Gregorcyk – “The current council belabored this issue. We’ve spent well more than $5,000 discussing it. It should have been an open and shut case. It should have been on the consent agenda. […] If we truly are stewards of the citizens’ money, and we feel like we’re paying too much, then move on to the next one – not make it a belabored media stunt.”
Blanchard – “I’m going to echo what Randy said and build on it. […]  An internet site that’s run out of Missouri that has zero circulation, I wouldn’t consider an apples to apples comparison. Now the Kansas City Star, which we did get a price from turned out to be twice as much as the local paper for the same service, that was a competitive bid.”

Question 11 – What do you believe could have been done so that the 2017-2018 Gardner Youth basketball program wouldn’t have been cancelled?
Baldwin – “I think a whole lot of it could have been simplified and headed off with better communication – it’d be nice to have a semi regular work session with the school district, just to stay in the loop – and then have a paper trail where we agree to even simple things.”
Gregorcyk – “Leverage the relationships you have with other elected officials on the board of education side, sit down around a conference table and figure this out. We have electricity that we can sell at a reduced rate so that we compensate for the facilities at the school. The school has the facilities for the kids to play basketball in, they can give us a fair market deal for the cost. […] For us to have this infighting at this level, at the cost of our children, I think, it’s unbelievable.”
Blanchard – “We are just now scratching the surface of what is going to be a much bigger issue here in a few months. […] We are the people who own all those facilities. They belong to the citizens. We pick the people we want to be in charge of those things. It’s going to take leaders who can sit at a table and disagree, but still try to find a way to come together and make it work for the community.”
Smith – “I’m optimistic though because what they’ve got out there may be good for my son, but again, it’s a loss to the city and it’s a shame that it happened. In the future, maybe this is a good warning that we need to sit down and make good relationships between the city and the school district, so that this kind of stuff doesn’t continue to happen.”
The forum lasted almost an hour and a half. All of the candidates stayed afterwards to meet and greet attendees.
Election day is Nov. 7.