Rick Poppitz
Special to The Gardner News
On Sept. 22, Gardner VFW post 11234 hosted a candidate forum at the Grange building on the fairgrounds. Around 50 attended.
Five school board members attended; Gardner mayoral candidates Chris Morrow, incumbent, and challenger Steve Shute, current Gardner city council president.
Don Roberts, incumbent, attended; he has been Edgerton mayor for eight years. Challenger Mike Sleister, Edgerton, did not attend the forum.
When mayoral candidates were asked about military service, Shute and Roberts said they had not served; Morrow served in the US Navy.
Candidates were asked to describe their role as elected leadership, and how they see their role as an elected official.
Morrow said there were a lot of ceremonial duties that came with being mayor, that he didn’t really like, but was glad to do them because they are part of the job.
“I think the most important thing in my position as mayor, is working with the council members as best I can and with city staff to form policy. And policy governance is rule of the day when it comes to municipal leadership. I’m proud of the pieces we’ve put in place over the past four years…” Morrow said.
Shute said he had told supporters when he ran for council that he would only serve one term, and said if elected mayor, he would only serve one term.
“I believe in the Jeffersonian model, and the Jeffersonian model is this – you serve until you have done your duty and accomplish the goals you wish to set out, and then after that you pass the reins on to people with new leadership and new ideas,” Shute said.
Shute added, “We have a fresh young new council for the most part, and I think it’s been a good thing for Gardner. You can talk about drama all you want, but you know what – we’re the most transparent body in the county, we’re the body that has the most integrity, because of the fact everybody knows what we stand for. It’s all out there, it’s in the open,” Shute said.
Roberts, Edgerton mayor running for re-election, said that during his eight years as mayor, Edgerton had created the number one industrial development in the nation and had started putting Edgerton on the road map for improvements to the community.
“We’ve started a path for Edgerton that wasn’t there before,” he said. “We’ve got our first parks master plan coming, we’ve got five year road maintenance programs working – we’ve got a lot of things in place to make the community better today, but much better in the future.”
“I’m a huge believer in policy governance,” he continued. “The mayor is the chief elected official and staff plays a critical role in any government. If you’ve got a great staff, you build a great team and can do a lot of great things.”
Gardner candidates were asked about meeting attendance, and if they could set aside dislike for others on council so that city business won’t be held up.
Shute said he didn’t think there was a problem with the council, and he had worked with everyone on it in the past.
“Has there been hard questions that have been asked in council meetings and things I probably wouldn’t have done or said? Yeah probably. I think that has a lot to do with, not necessarily lack of respect but lack of trust in some members of the body,” Shute said. “But I think you have to set those things aside in order to do the business of the city.”
Morrow talked about a KMBZ radio news report that had aired earlier that day; he said he did the interview because he wanted to mention the good things going on in Gardner.
“I wanted to say that in spite of the differences we have, that we’re still getting things accomplished,” Morrow said. “Ninety five plus percent of our votes are being approved 5-0. Now I’d like to take credit for that, I’d like the governing body to be able to take credit for that, but a lot of that credit has to go to city staff. We show up twice a month, we read our packets, we meet with our constituents, but they’re the people that are there at city hall every day, doing the hard work.” Because of all those 5-0 votes, I think I’ve got a proven track record of being able to handle these types of situations,” said Morrow.
Roberts said that arguments are a part of what government is built upon.

“In Edgerton it’s done with respect. There may be disagreement, and you may not win a vote but really it’s about respect at the end of the day – everybody treats everybody professionally,” Roberts said. “It is not near as fired up as what I see in Gardner, to be honest with you, but regardless, arguments are good in government. It actually can bring decisions that are good for the community,” said Roberts.
“We treat everybody well. We treat our citizens well, we allow people to talk. It’s about being a representative of the people, and you should be a good representative of the people and do it professionally,” Roberts concluded.
Candidates were asked what is the most important issue facing their towns.
Roberts said there were a ton of issues that are worked on by Edgerton staff every day, and they were all important but overall the most important was to maintain and improve quality of life for the community, while keeping costs affordable. He said the industrial developments were helping to make that possible.
Morrow discussed continuous improvement opportunities and smart and sustainable growth. He said the city needed to continuously improve the way it functions and the way it impacts quality of life for residents.
Shute said the most important issue for Gardner was annexation. He said Gardner must expand its borders in order to leverage and expand the tax base. With that, comes other needs such as transportation. Shute said if elected mayor, he would try to fast track the I-35 interchanges. He said he was the only candidate that had talked about the need for high speed internet.