Danedri Thompson
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Todd Winters will serve out the remainder of Larry Fotovich’s term on the Gardner City Council. His term expires in April 2015.
Council members selected Winters, a former council member and chiropractor,  after a lengthy, public interview process during a Nov. 3 meeting.
Eight candidates applied for the role, but two withdrew prior to the council meeting. Each of the six applicants was given two minutes to introduce themselves to the council and then several minutes to answer the same three questions: What are the three biggest issues facing the city in the next three years and what steps need to be taken to address them? Identify the top three priorities for the city; and where do you see the city in five to ten years?
In alphabetical order, the applicants introduced themselves and and answered the questions. Clinton Barney spoke first. a software engineer for Northrup Grumman, Barney said he and his wife have lived in Kansas since 1993 and in Gardner since 2009. They have two children.
“I am the demographic of people that are moving to Gardner,” Barney said. “I’m young. I have a beard. I’m short and sweet and to the point.”
Barney listed the city’s debt and infrastructure as key concerns and said he would like to see more public involvement in decision making.
Shawn Carlisle also listed infrastructure maintenance as a top priority. Carlisle and his wife have lived in Gardner for eight years. Originally from southern Indiana, Carlisle served as the president of the Young Republicans in high school and in college. He said he is no longer a devout Republican, but that he continues to be conservative.
“I do question things,” he said. “But I don’t say, ‘no,’ just to say, ‘no,’ and I don’t fight just to fight. I am humble enough to admit when I was wrong.”
In addition to infrastructure concerns, Carlisle said the city also needs to carefully plan for the future use of its vacant land.
“There’s about 20 percent vacant land and what needs to be done with it needs to be done with foresight,” Carlisle said.
Randy Gregorcyk was appointed previously to the council and served for 10 months. He is a current member of the city’s Electric Utility Advisory Board.
“My desire to serve is an innate desire to make our city a better place to live for my family and each of our families,” Gregorcyk told the council. He stressed city visioning, attracting commercial and residential development as priorities.
“The citizens need a bold majority to support the city’s growth in a strategic way,” he said.
Commercial growth would lessen the tax burden on residents. Many of the applicants, including Gregorcyk, said land east of Interstate 35 should be primed for growth.
“WIthout good leadership, our city will be a high tax bedroom community,” he said.
Applicant Steve McNeer said in addition to high property tax rates, utility rates are higher than in other areas. McNeer is a real estate agent and said those fees make Gardner less attractive to potential buyers and residents.
McNeer has lived within Gardner city limits since 2009 and has lived within the school district since 2000.
He said some codes and regulations have made it difficult for developers to do business in the city. In addition to flattening the growth in property taxes, McNeer said he’d like to incentivize employees to find cost savings and reduce city spending.
“I believe we could and should empower city staff to innovate and reward innovation,” McNeer said. “They are closest to the money being spent.”
Lower taxes and utility rates should help offset the cost for residents to commute to Overland Park.
“This community has all the things we need to grow and succeed,” McNeer said. “However, there are some things holding us back — taxes, high utilities and trying to get ahead of community expenses.”
Lee Moore said one of his key concerns is that the city has significant turnover in some key positions. He listed the vacant police chief as an example. The city’s community development director also recently left the city.
“I think to address those we need to set personnel retention goals and hold people accountable,” he said. “We need to do exit interviews, if we’re not already.”
He said management and council should actively engage city employees to determine whether there are gaps in pay and benefits. Moore said it’s also important to get politics out of utilities.
“We need to develop a maintenance program for utility maintenance and keep it funded,” he said.
Moore currently serves on the city’s Electric Utility Advisory Board. He said with every decision city officials need to continually ask what the return on investment will be to the citizens of Gardner.
He also suggested that the council should be active in determining problems rather than waiting for citizens to come to the podium and ask for help. He cited the need for Americans with Disability Act compliant sidewalks throughout town as an example.
“We need to make a habit of outreach,” he said.
Winters addressed the council last. (See sidebar.)
Following the interviews, council narrowed the applicants to three using a weighted ranking system. Each member of the council ranked the applicants from 1-6. Council then did an up-or-down vote to select a candidate to appoint to the council. Moore had the lowest score, but Winters had the most “1” rankings.
He was appointed based on the ‘yes’ votes of council members Heath Freeman and Tory Roberts and Mayor Chris Morrow.