Editor’s Note: Candidate speeches were videotaped during the event and will be viewable on The Gardner News website soon as as they’re available.

Danedri Thompson
[email protected]

Candidates for Gardner City Council formally introduced themselves to members of the public

Gardner City Council candidates (from left) Jared Taylor, Larry Fotovich, Dustin Martin, Chris Morrow, Dennis Pugh, Tory Roberts, Bill Sutton and Jeff Barber await their turn at the microphone during a city council candidate forum Saturday morning. Staff photo by Danedri Thompson

during a forum sponsored by the Gardner Area Chamber of Commerce on Saturday morning.

All eight candidates mingled with members of the public for approximately an hour before drawing numbers and giving three minute speeches at Pioneer Ridge Middle School.

Dennis Pugh said it is important to him to be a part of something bigger than himself.

“This is one of the best ways I can give back to the community,” he told a crowd of more than 30 people. Pugh served briefly on the council in 2009, after being appointed by then-Mayor Carol Lehman.

He said the city has made some mistakes in the past. For example, last summer, he saw a city employee weed eating in shorts. That raised potential workman’s compensation concerns. He called city officials to let them know.

“That was a mistake,” he said. “You hold your city accountable.”

He said helping improve the city’s tax base as a goal, and said he’d like to see a community center built in Gardner in the future.

Jared Taylor said he wants Gardner to continue to be a liveable city with great schools and parks.

“Business will come to this city,” he said. “But we need to be creative as we move Gardner forward.”

Taylor said he is committed to rolling back the tax increase the current council approved last year. He’d also like to see the council reconfigured so council members are elected from districts and wards rather than at large.

Chris Morrow, one of three veterans on the ballot for city council, said he’s lived in Gardner since 2006.

“This growth has strained our city’s resources,” he said. “Yet, Gardner remains a great place to live.”

Morrow said he believes he has the right temperament for the job of Gardner City Council member and would like to balance the budget without increasing taxes.

Jeff Barber, another veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces, said he’s always followed national politics, but never paid much attention to the local level.

“Until BNSF decided to build an intermodal on our doorstep,” he said.

He said one of his goals on the council would be to ensure that new businesses and developments don’t become a financial burden to the citizens of Gardner.

Dustin “Duck” Martin graduated from Gardner Edgerton High School. He said because he is the youngest candidate, young people in the community are willing to discuss their concerns with him.

“I’m very easy going,” he said. “Very easy to talk to.”

He said he briefly moved out of Gardner when his wife got a job teaching in a district closer to Kansas City.

“Businesses and residents need someone (on the council) they can go to, and I feel like that’s me,” Martin said.

Bill Sutton said he remembers being in town and watching the fireworks and feeling a wonderful sense of community.

“I’ve also been here during times of descent, when it seems like our town is trying to tear itself apart from within,” he said.

Taxes are necessary at some level, he said, but he wants to ensure that city government is getting the most value out of tax dollars. He worries that the state officials will use monies that have traditionally been given to cities to close the state’s budget gap.

“We have to work against being left holding the bag,” he said.

Tory Roberts said she is eager and energetic to give back to the Gardner community. She currently serves on the Planning Commission, the Board of Zoning Appeals, and has been attending city council meetings for the last two years.

“I am familiar with the issues and will be ready to hit the ground running,” she said.

Citing renewable energy and re-examining the budget process to maximize future growth potential, Roberts said she is committed, enthusiastic, a listener and a doer.

Larry Fotovich said people probably know where he stands on the issues, because ran for mayor in 2009 and lost by 4 votes to a 14-year political veteran. He said he worked in finance, served as a navy helicopter pilot before starting his own real estate brokerage.

“It’s the smallest of small businesses,” he said. “One person.”

He said he wouldn’t be running for office if he thought everything in Gardner was perfect. The city has been headed in the wrong direction.

“The foundation was laid 10 years ago when (the city’s) debt was one-third of what it is today,” he said.

A Gardner Edgerton High School student filmed the brief speeches and they will be available online.  (As of 9:30 a.m. March 3, the videos are still not available. They will be posted as soon as available.)

Chamber president Steve Devore said the chamber plans to sponsor a more traditional debate in the future. The election is April 5.