Heath Freeman will replace Dennis Pugh on the Gardner City Council.
Council members, in a 3-1 vote, approved Mayor Dave Drovetta’s appointment to the council, but not before council member Larry Fotovich asked Freeman a number of questions.
Eight people ran for three seats on the council last April, Freeman was not among them, and Fotovich asked why.
“Timing has just opened up and it made this a little bit of an opportunity,” he said.
In an interview following the city council meeting, Freeman wouldn’t elaborate on what conditions changed between the April 2010 election and now to make the timing right for serving on the council.
“Those are personal things. There were just some personal things that during the last election that didn’t make the timing right,” he said.
The 36-year old graduated from Kansas State University in 1998 with a degree in graphic design and hales from Wellington, Kan. – a community south of Wichita. After college, he substitute taught and then moved to the Dallas, Texas to take a job with a small printing company there.
His wife is from Wellsville, but the pair met in Texas.
“Both of us are small town Kansas kids,” Freeman said.
They moved to Gardner in 2006, but Freeman wasn’t politically active. He registered to vote in Johnson County as an independent in 2004. However, he didn’t vote in September 2005 election that created a countywide quarter-cent sales tax to be used for schools. He also did not vote in primary elections for city council in 2007 or in the general election in 2007 that elected members to the city council and to the school board.
He also didn’t cast a ballot in the 2009 city council elections – in either the primary or the general. That election, in April 2009, saw Mary Peters and Dan Thompson elected to the council and council member Dave Drovetta vaunted to the role of Mayor.
Freeman was, however, active in a campaign, which started immediately after the 2009 election, to recall Peters and council member John Shepherd.
Fotovich asked about Freeman’s participation in that campaign during Freeman’s first council meeting. He asked if Freeman could draw any parallels between the perceived Kansas Open Meetings Act that sparked the recall campaign and two violations of the current council last summer.
“I still think the way (former council members) went about it was a power play,” Freeman said. “I agree the D.A. said they did not violate the law. We can arugue back and forth, and we know where I fell into it. I don’t think you’re going to get the answer you want from me… I don’t think the most recent violations were a play for power.”
It was the contentious nature of the 2009 election that Freeman said sparked his interest in local politics.
“It was almost a partisan election and that seemed odd,” he said. “My interest level kept increasing and I found where I thought I could help.”
One way he’d like to help is by pitching Gardner’s attractive qualities to potential residents and business owners.
“They need to understand the value of proximity to the Kansas City metro,” Freeman said.
He sited the community’s direct highway access and home prices as benefits.
“I’m really excited about the opportunity to tackle some of our challenges,” he said. “I think I’ll be able to do some good and look forward to working with everyone.”
During the Jan. 17 council meeting, Fotovich also inquired about Freeman’s relationship to Gardner Bank, which he said has many development issues that come before the city. Freeman is the son-in-law of the bank’s vice president.
Freeman said he would vote on all issues keeping Gardner’s best interests at heart.
Council members Brian Broxterman, Kristina Harrison and Chris Morrow approved Freeman’s appointment. Fotovich voted against it.
Freeman marks Drovetta’s fifth appointment to the Gardner City Council since his election in 2009. He replaces council member Dennis Pugh, who resigned after being charged with battery and criminal deprivation of property. Pugh was elected in 2011, and Freeman will serve out the remainder of his term until 2015.