The seven candidates running for two Gardner city council seats participated in a forum sponsored by the VFW on July 21. At the table from left to right are Randy Gregorcyk, Shirley Harley, Jonathan Pelkey, Scott Smith, Mark Baldwin, Michael Blanchard and Terrence Flowers. Submitted photo
Special to The Gardner News
On July 21, VFW Post 11234 of Gardner hosted a candidate forum at the Gardner Grange building on the fairgrounds. There are seven candidates running for two Gardner city council seats, and all seven participated.
The field of seven will be narrowed down to four in the Aug. 1 primary election. The four will move on to the general election in November, where the top two will win the seats.
The seven candidates sat at a long straight table facing the audience. At the table from left to right were Randy Gregorcyk, Shirley Harley, Jonathan Pelkey, Scott Smith, Mark Baldwin, Michael Blanchard and Terrence Flowers.
After introducing themselves, candidates were given one minute to answer questions read from the front row by VFW members.
The first question was, should the bond issue be adopted? A question regarding a new Justice Center to house the police department and municipal court are on the ballot. All candidates said they were for the justice center and discussed their reasoning.
The second question asked about military and community service. None have served in the military, but all have been involved in various types of community or civic organizations. Three are currently serving on city advisory committees or commissions. Gregorcyk is on the Economic Development Advisory Committee. Blanchard is on the Streets, Sidewalks and Stormwater Advisory Committee and Baldwin is chairman of the Utility Advisory Commission.
On keeping citizens informed
Another question was – what is the best way to keep the citizens of Gardner informed of events and of your achievements as a city council member?
Pelkey said social media was very important, and the city needed to stay on top of it. He also suggested getting out in the community, such as schools and senior centers, to communicate more directly.
Smith said social media and the internet was obviously the best way, and also mentioned the printed newsletter.
Baldwin mentioned individual communication by phone, email and in person and said that social media and Facebook were key for mass communications.
Blanchard said internet access is not 100 percent in the community, and some people don’t use social media. He said a variety of ways for access needs to be provided, and because it provides both print and online access, using the local newspaper is a good way of doing that.
Flowers said Facebook was good but the best way was Twitter. He likes the directness imposed by the 140 character limit. He also said he liked the newsletter the city mails out.
Gregorcyk said the city should play both sides of the media spectrum, from social media to the newspaper. He also suggested connecting with citizens through the city’s festivals and facilities.
Harley said she knew social media was the big thing but thinks the local newspaper still reaches a lot of people. She said she and others she knows read the paper every week and recommends a combination of the two.
On GMA and the golf course
Candidates were asked what they thought should be done with Gardner Municipal Airport and the Gardner Golf Course.
Baldwin answered first and said he would have to see data about how many people support it, how much it would cost and how it would work in the budget before he could say what he supported.
Blanchard said he considered both the golf course and airport community owned assets and didn’t see benefit in getting rid of assets you can’t get back. He said the right investments could increase value exponentially.
Flowers said council members serve at the pleasure of the citizens, so it would be imperative to find out what the citizens want, and he would follow that direction.
Gregorcyk said he was all in favor of investing the baseline amount of money to get greens, fairways and tees back up and running, and then leverage the relationship with the golf community in Gardner. He said he thought the airport should be returned back to the citizens and the airport board, and the city had done a poor job of being steward.
Harley said she was in favor of keeping the golf course but she said GMA didn’t serve a lot of Gardner people. She asked if that wouldn’t make a beautiful mall out there, or something that would benefit all the citizens here rather than just out of town pilots. She said the airport was nice to have, but she was thinking of the majority.
Pelkey said there was along history with both the airport and golf course, and the community really likes both of them. He wouldn’t want to get rid of either. He would be in favor of investing in them as long as essential budgetary needs, such as the police, were taken care of first.
Smith said the costs to bring the golf course up to a competitive level made it really hard to justify a big investment, especially with the budgetary concerns the city has right now. Smith said he was a pilot and was familiar with small town airports around the country. He said they were seldom money makers but provide a valuable service and closing the airport would be a detriment to the flying community.
On the growth of Gardner
The last question was about how they see the growth of Gardner and how they would like to influence it.
Blanchard said he grew up in small towns, wanted to raise his kids in a small town, and that’s why he lives in Gardner. Blanchard said he was excited about the growth and wanted to take part in influencing future growth in a way that benefits the community economically while also trying to keep the small town community qualities.
Flowers said he was excited about the building of the Justice Center and that would free up the existing property that could be used for a myriad of things. He said that area could be a huge economic business.
Gregorcyk said part of the answer with growth is to consider not just the commercial and residential development pieces but also annexation. Gregorcyk said the city should continuously annex to the east and south around the I-35 interchanges to attract businesses that bring good paying jobs… growing the tax base and reducing the tax burden of the residents.
Harley said she felt like Gardner could become the shining star of southwest Johnson County, but it’s going to take a lot of long range planning and economic development. Harley said we need new businesses, small and large, to offer jobs that will keep young people here. She said Gardner needs more apartments, a parking lot downtown, more restaurants, a technical learning center, an urgent care center and a community center. She also said we need better communication with the school district.
Pelkey recalled how excited the community was when the Wal-Mart was built and when the pool was built, and he wants to continue to see growth and excitement like that. Pelkey said the population growth was increasing residential development – and commercial development needs to keep pace to keep the citizens taxes low while still being able to buy the things we need.
Smith said any city that is dependent on property taxes from a large percentage of residential land is limited, budget wise, to the one time annual payments they get from that. Smith said business is key because you diversify the tax base… the combination of property tax and sales tax enables paying for basic needs as well as the cultural things people want, mentioning the downtown corridor. He said the city has already been growing and we need to embrace the growth. He said annexation was key.
Baldwin said he grew up in a small town and loves Gardner for the small town feel. He noted the population has doubled since he moved here, but the only thing that’s grown with it is his taxes. He said we have to have the business growth to help offset what the citizens’. pay and it would be great to see the south side at I-35 annexed, but we have to be smart about how it’s done and it needs long range planning.
Following the questions, candidates each gave closing remarks and then stayed afterwards to talk to individuals.
For those seeking more info about the candidates, the Chamber of Commerce has made videos of each candidate. Look for them on the chamber website (gardneredgerton.org).