Candidates for the April 8 Municipal Election squared off Tuesday during a forum with topics ranging from economic development to the smoking ban to the qualifications of city adminsitrative staff.
Hosted by the League of Women Voters and held in council chambers at the Municipal Building, mayoral candidates Steve Galliher and Allen Hawkins, along with Ward 1 candidates Jim Cunningham and Susan Daniels and Ward 3 candidates Terry Cockrell and Don Meier all made their case why they would be the best person for the job.
Galliher and Hawkins both touted their experience in city government during their opening statements. Galliher has served two terms as a councilman for Ward 1 and was mayor pro-tem for a year while Hawkins was mayor from 1976 to 1982.
“My vision is to keep Sedalia moving forward and, when I leave office, to leave it in better shape,” Galliher said. “I think great caution and a critical eye need to be kept on the budget and we need to continue to work with economic development to bring jobs to the city. I think we have very good department heads who spend wisely and frugally in their budgets.”
Hawkins said he wanted to ensure that “citizens' and business's rights are not being taken away.”
“The welfare and safety of all citizens are my prime concern,” he said. “I believe council meetings should be an open forum for people. As for the budget, I think it should be balanced with 10 percent in reserves for emergencies, such as when we had the tornado in 1977.”
Several questions from the audience were directed only to Hawkins, including queries about his previous time as mayor and the industries he has previously said he brought to Sedalia.
“I hired the first economic development director and we went to work as a team to bring industries here,” Hawkins said. “I think (Sedalia) added more small businesses when I was mayor than any other administration. But there are a lot of empty buildings in Sedalia, we need to fill those.”
Later, when asked about specific economic development plans, Hawkins said finding more land to expand was key.
“The industrial park is just about full, you have to have the grounds to show (businesses) they can come here,” he said. “We're not big enough to attract the really big businesses so you have to get out and beat the bushes.”
As for their priorities if elected, both candidates said street repairs were at the top of the list.
“We've got 170 miles of streets that need to be repaired and we've put $200,000 in the budget this year to address it,” Galliher said. “Another priority needs to be all these falling buildings downtown. I'm tired of spending folks money on other people's mistakes and issues.”
Of the four candidates vying for two city council seats, only Cockrell had specific questions asked of him from the audience. Chief among his concerns, he said, was the amount of committees, boards and commissions the city currently has.
“Every time you turn around there's a new committee that's been formed, telling us our rights, plain and simple,” Cockrell said. “I would put these committees on hold. We don't need no fairytales telling us what to do”
Both Cunningham and Meier said they disagreed, that more people needed to be involved in local government, not less.
“If we want to keep improving government we have to have a rapport and trust with the people,” Daniels added. “The more citizens get involved the better of we'll be; they get a greater understand of how government works and we get different perspectives.”
“Commissions and boards are the eyes and ears of the council,” Meier said. “(Council) can't know everything that's going on and listen to every complaint.”
Cockrell also took issue with the city's administration staff and department heads, saying they continually “tell council what to do and if these department heads are so-called qualified, we wouldn't have these problems” and addressed specific complaints he's previously made about mismanaged city funds.
“Something specific with that, (council) just passed the budget and it included $60,000 for ADA rails for downtown,” he said. “If streetscape was correctly done right we wouldn't need to be spending that money. Also, $82,000 was included for two new (police) squad cars. Do we really need to spend $82,000 for cars when we just have cars sitting around? The cars we have also need better maintenance. Our boys are hot rodding these cars, plain and simple, and know if they mess them up they can just ask for another $82,000 check.”
Of the topics covered, a question about the city-wide smoking ban and if the candidates agreed it should stand as-is, provided some of the shortest answers during the forum and provoked some laughter from the audience.
“This is the subject that just won't die,” said Meier. “It's been put to bed, council has voted two times on it with the same outcome. It's done.”
“But is it done?” countered Cockrell. “No. If (I'm) elected it will be repealed. This all happened because some group came to the city and told us how we should live.”
“It's done, it's over,” Daniels said.
“I agree,” Cunningham said.
“Me too,” Galliher added.
“It was done poorly,” Hawkins said. “It shouldn't have been dictated. Going over the vote of the people, that won't happen in my administration.”
During closing remarks, Meier noted that the words “plain and simple” had been used repeatedly by Cockrell all evening and turned the phrase, saying, “plain and simple, I'm the best candidate. I have more experience with the city and know the budget.”
Cockrell said he was not part of a department or committee, that he would stand up for the rights of the citizens and think outside the box.
During her remarks Daniels reminded the audience she was previously a Ward 1 councilwoman for six years and she'd like to return to the position.
“I've never lost the passion for the job or the interest,” she said. “I'd like the city to be more transparent and interact with the citizens more.”
“It's been an entertaining evening to say the least,” Cunningham said to the audience's laughter. “I believe Sedalia needs to move forward and concentrate on growth. I won't make any specific promises about what I'll do (on council) but I guarantee I'll work hard.”
Both Hawkins and Galliher said they were the best candidate for the job, during closing remarks.
“We've got the roads, library, hospital, parks, police, fire, water, snow removal, jobs, special interest,” Hawkins said. “All of these things need to work together.”
“I've spent the last four years serving you and I enjoyed every minute of it,” Galliher said. “I will be straightforward and always put the well-being of Sedalia above everything else. I'm your man.”