Four candidates are running for the Gardner City Council and were sent questions regarding their candidacy last week for their upcoming Nov. 2 election.
Candidates include: Mark Baldwin, Alex Coleman, John Tramble and Steve Shute. Coleman and Tramble are newcomers, while Shute and Baldwin are incumbents. Answers were not received from Shute.
Provide brief information on yourself: education, employment, family, achievements, community groups, previous office. What you believe important.
Alex Coleman: Army veteran, energy management profession. Board member of Gardner Pride Family— wife Stacey, three kids, Abby (20) Beckett (14) and Maizie (11) My family is important. My community is.
Mark Baldwin: 2 Bachelor of Science degrees in technology earned concurrently over 3 years – Valedictorian and Summa Cum Laude for both; Senior Software Engineer ( professionally for 19 years ); Married with 3 children; Knights of Columbus Sir Knight and past treasurer of 15 years
Finance Council member and Security Committee member at Divine Mercy Catholic Church; Precinct committeeman since 2010; Eagle Scout
John Tramble: I am a United States Air Force Veteran. I retired from the Federal Aviation Administration where I was an Air Traffic Controller. I was elected Union president 3 times during my career as a controller. I’m married to a NICU nurse and the puppy daddy to two pit bull mix pups. I’m a member of the Gardner Rotary and the Leroy Hill chapter of the Garder American Legion.
Why are you running for elected office, and what success do you hope to achieve?
John Tramble: I’m running for City Council because I believe as Gardner grows the council must represent the people of the city by listening to the needs of the many instead of the demands of the few. I don’t have any pet projects. What I envision my success to look like is intentional communication with the Citizens of Gardner.
Mark Baldwin: I’m running to continue responsible growth of the city, to investigate and potentially reduce the electric rate over a 10 year period, to not favor one group/business/neighborhood/etc. over others in policymaking, to keep our city safe ( maintain public safety staffing & equipment ), to create a viable plan for maintaining our streets and sidewalks, and to make our parks more inclusive for residents and visitors.
Alex Coleman: I am running to bring a voice of moderation to Gardner’s City Council. I want to re-examine the plan to revitalize downtown Gardner, to help true small business owners thrive, and keep taxpayer dollars in Gardner.
Do you believe it should be a priority for GPD to patrol 191st/Gardner Rd and 183rd/Cherokee to control and regulate intermodal traffic? Should Gardner maintain and facilitate the roads for access to restaurants and other local businesses?
Alex Coleman: I think I’d have to have a look at accident and citation reports over the last few years to determine if allocating Gardner resources for any problems created by intermodal traffic.  I do think maintenance should be allocated first with regard to public safety then to cost and responsibility.
John Tramble: If there are numerous issues that cause increased incidents at those spots definitely. Yes, where the road is state-maintained, there need to be cooperative efforts to decrease the time it takes to get repairs done. We have to cut through the red tape that causes delays. Mark Baldwin: GPD needs to patrol 183rd/Cherokee to keep semi traffic off residential roads.  188th has recently been built to serve traffic headed to 191st Street but unless data points to that location being a problem it doesn’t need special priority.  Gardner road south of I-35 needs a higher priority than 191st during school drop-off and pick-up.
Do you believe that the path to bring developments (business, residential, industrial, etc) to Gardner should always come with some type of offer of a tax break or incentive?  Why or why not?  Should city leadership take into account that at the end of the day, the cost shifts to others?
Mark Baldwin: Each development has its own set of challenges.  The city has excellent consultants that help the governing body and staff determine the value of a new project.  Incentives are a tool to help the developer achieve profitability.  We can’t give away the farm but 1 in hand is more than 2 in the bush because each incentive is a trade-off in some regard. Basically, the developer and the city need to come to an agreement that is a win-win for both while the governing body and staff have to manage the growth from a debt load and return-on-investment perspective. John Tramble: I understand that the status quo is to offer “bait” to attract development. We have to let those developers wishing to do business in Gardner know that we are growing. We should ask for advance incentives before we consider reciprocating.
Alex Coleman: Tax incentives should be offered to true small business owners and developers. We don’t need to offer tax incentives to big box stores, but if a local wants to open a restaurant, a boutique or hardware store, that person should be allowed attractive incentives.
Gardner’s budget has doubled from $55K in 2011 to $131K in 2021, while the population has only increased from 19K to 23K. Is this appropriate?
Alex Coleman: The dollar amount is appropriate. The allocation of resources is not. Sweetheart development deals and huge tax incentives are not helping the average citizen of Gardner.
John Tramble: Great question. I would have to study why the budget doubled.
Mark Baldwin: Dollars/person is a metric that can be used and I don’t think there’s one metric that’s truly a good representation of what’s appropriate.  The reason this particular metric isn’t ideal is if you run out of water ( as we were ) because of that increased growth/consumption you need a new water plant which costs millions.  Part of the budget is debt payments on capital improvement projects so realistically those should be removed to examine the general government’s cost.  $131M / $55M is a 238% increase but if you look at the general government it’s $17,802,455 ( 2020 ) / $11,343,227 ( 2011 ) which is a 157% increase.  After factoring in inflation ( which I used the CPI index for my calculations ) results in a ~18.69% increase. That means $11.3M would be $13,463,293 at the end of 2020.  $17.8M / $13.5M ( with the actuals ) is 132%.  I’m a big proponent of limited government and spending on what’s necessary and not extra there are some things I can’t reduce that I wish I could.  For instance, spending $300-500,000 per year to have a pool open is wasteful but we have the pool nonetheless.  A 32% increase over 10 years while the city population grew 23k/19k or 21% doesn’t seem far off but let’s look deeper.  Considering our employees/1000 residents rate in 2011 was 87/19k and in 2020 117( subtracted utility personnel as they’re paid from enterprise funds and not the general fund ) /23k for an increase of 0.5 employees/1000 residents, we have 4 more police patrol vehicles acquired and maintained, almost double the lane miles of roadway 212/108.7 (195%) built and maintained, 6586/1521 (433%) building inspections occurred while the mill rate went from 23.107 ( excludes bond and interest ) to 14.622 ( there was a 5.911 decrease in 2016 due to transferring fire protection to FD1 ) so overall a 2.574 decrease in the mill rate (17.196-14.622).  Not forgetting the other 1/2 of the property tax equation (property valuation) which the county’s valuation ( just residential so no agriculture, not-for-profit, or commercial ) went up 173% from $98,455,518 to $170,300,580.  -15% ( mill rate ) x 173% ( valuation ) is 147.05% which effectively is covering the bond and interest change, in governmental activities, of from $31,214,233 to $46,063,452 (147.6%).  The portion of our mill rate for bond and interest has gone from 8.025 to 6.043 but there was a decrease of 3.0 in 2016 ( for FD1 again ) so realistically an increase of 1.018 mills.  Considering there were 0 members of the public attendance for the public hearing on the budget just weeks ago they are signaling ( either purposely or not) it’s appropriate.  That being said, I’ll continue to try and find efficiencies, push for the city government to stop footing the bill for private activities, judiciously evaluate growth project incentives, and focus on the needs over wants.
How can the decisions that come out of city hall be more transparent?  Or do you think the right level of transparency currently exists today? Is it appropriate for officials to skirt the law?
Mark Baldwin: There are meeting agendas, live-streamed and recorded meetings that are open to the public, minutes, published notices, a city newsletter, text updates, Facebook updates, and the city website to disseminate the information so decisions are transparent now.  To increase actual transparency, officials could actually say what they mean rather than being a friend to everyone playing politics.  Also, each resident needs to take an active role in city government. That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to run for office but keeping tabs on the budget, scrutinizing policy decisions, joining a committee, or just watching a meeting is a start.  It’s sad how apathetic we, as a society, have become in regards to participating in local elections, public meetings, etc.  The governing body had a public hearing for the city’s budget and no one came to speak.  I know darn well there’s no conceivable means almost 24,000 residents are in agreeement with every single number and timeframe for decisions we make.
Is it appropriate for officials to skirt the law seems like a loaded question.  Which law potentially being skirted would help me answer that.  A simple no should suffice but I’m sure just about every official has broken a law at some point.  If someone didn’t put on his seatbelt before putting the car in drive or didn’t cross at a crosswalk technically he broke the law and while that still makes the action wrong/illegal most wouldn’t consider those as egregious as being a violent felon or embezzling millions from a charity.  For someone like myself, morality matters, principles matter, and character means doing the right thing when no one is looking.  There’s legal and illegal, moral and immoral, but every official doesn’t see things thru the same lens.  Someone else might dance on the line of legal and illegal because their morality is tainted by greed or power but that doesn’t make it appropriate to me.
John Tramble: There is too much technology for the decisions being made not to be transparent, we need to use it. Skirt the law? Is life or death involved? City leaders should be held accountable for their actions. Great leaders understand the consequences of their actions and should not shy away from being held accountable.
Alex Coleman: Of course it’s not appropriate for officials to skirt the law. Transparency is one of the reasons I decided to run. Closed doors sessions and purposeful, deliberate obfuscation of planning, development and funding eroded my faith in the current Council.
Each year the city staff drafts a legislative agenda to lobby the state government. Are you familiar with the city’s agenda, do you primarily agree or disagree with its contents, and do you believe government entities should use residents tax funds to lobby for additional funding?
Alex Coleman: The legislative agenda should be a statement that reflects what items before the legislature are of importance to the citizens of Gardner.  For example, ensuring adequate funding for state infrastructure.  I would not consider a document outlining these items as using tax dollars for lobbying.
Mark Baldwin: I’m familiar with the agenda LKM provides to the city that is presented for us to vote on each year.  I have been voting against it as the city isn’t a constituent of state legislators – you and I are.  The contents don’t matter as the legislators don’t answer to the city of Gardner but they do answer to myself, yourself, and everyone else who votes in their election(s).  To my knowledge, the only city staff ( i.e. tax dollars for the salary ) lobbying for additional funding is our grant writer.
John Tramble: I am not familiar with the city’s legislative agenda so I would have to study them. Unfortunately, lobbying is a necessary evil in politics. It appears those with the bigger wallets win the majority of the time. Right and wrong get lost, see big pharma. No, I don’t think government entities should use resident tax funds. There should be an account set aside with money collected from developers wishing to do business in Gardner to lobby.
Questions from USD 231 school board candidates will appear in next week’s edition of The Gardner News.