Gov. Matt Blunt and his cabinet spent Tuesday afternoon at the Pettis County Courthouse and other places in Sedalia, talking face-to-face with local people who took advantage of their presence here.
The governor talked to about 25 groups or individuals at the courthouse. He set up an office in the County Commission Chambers, and people lined up for a one-on-one chat with Blunt.
The topics ranged from education, health care and ways to improve the justice and corrections system to the benefits of bringing the Tour of Missouri bike race through Sedalia.
Blunt said the event is designed to make government more accountable, responsible and accessible. The state plans to host other “Capital for a Day” events elsewhere, but have yet to schedule those.
“I can’t think of a better place to start this than right here in Sedalia,” Blunt said.
He chose Sedalia partly because it’s near Jefferson City.
Sedalia Downtown Development Inc. Administrator Meg Liston, bike shop owner Ebby Norman and Sedalia Community Development Director John Simmons used their time with the governor to lobby for the statewide bike race to stop here next year.
Norman said being able to speak with the appropriate people from different departments at the same time was helpful.
“There is so much that has been accomplished in these few minutes ... that would take so much time muddling through e-mail and telephone calls,” he said after a brief visit with Blunt.
The face-to-face communication could make the difference when leaders decide the route for next year’s race, Norman said. “You just can’t put a value on it,” he said.
The group touted Sedalia’s lodging and restaurant capacities and central location as reasons for the tour to make a stop here.
Some Sedalians sought help straightening out personal matters.
Richard Thomas, 49, of Sedalia, went to the courthouse to find out why he has been denied vocational rehabilitation training since 1978.
“Maybe this listening post will get it straightened out,” he said.
Thomas was pleased that one of the governor’s aides directed him to someone he believed could help.
“I think this could be a positive thing,” he said.
Others wanted to bend the governor’s ear to suggest improvements to services.
Gloria Kinder, a team leader for Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) program offered through the Pettis County Community Partnership, applauded the governor’s support of the Missouri Re-Entry Process. The program tries to lower the recidivism rate of criminals.
Kinder, who spent stints in prison for nearly 20 years, now works with those recently released from prison.
“I wish I would have had the re-entry process at my disposal when I got out,” she said. “It gives them a chance.”
Kinder said if she spoke with Blunt, she would suggest more money for transitional housing in rural areas. “That’s our biggest barrier here,” she said.
Jerry Harlan, 79, of Sedalia, also had the corrections system on his mind Tuesday. He spoke with the governor about a restorative justice mediation program. Under the program, victims and offenders meet with a trained mediator to work out restitution. Harlan’s wife, Margaret, is trying to start a restorative justice program in Pettis County.
Harlan said he asked Blunt to support House Bill 207, which would allow counties the authority to establish such programs.
“He seemed favorable,” Harlan said.
Harlan said he thought the event was a good idea.
“There are probably people here who wouldn’t make the trip to Jefferson City to make their desires known,” he said.
Representatives of the governor’s cabinet, including the departments of Natural Resources, Conservation, Higher Education, Health and Senior Services, Social Services, Mental Health and Economic Development, set up informational tables on the second floor of the courthouse. There they fielded a handful of questions and comments from citizens.
Doyle Childers, DNR director, said people are often unsure where to turn when they are looking for answers. Those people were able to quickly find the appropriate place to address their concern at the event Tuesday, he said.
“The main thing is having the entire cabinet here,” he said. “Someone can come in and talk to all of us at the same time. It’s much more efficient this way.”
Dianna Wright, 59, of La Monte, was less than satisfied with her access to Blunt.
Wright, who receives Social Security disability income and food stamps, wanted to ask the governor about cuts to Medicaid that have forced her to do without blood-fortifying medication and a hospital bed at home as she undergoes chemotherapy to combat stomach cancer.
“What I want is my bed back, my shot back,” Wright told The Democrat after her trip to the courthouse. “The money we are putting on the roads on Missouri should go back into Medicaid or Medicare. I thought this (visit) was going to be open to the public.”
Wright said when she went to the courthouse, officials referred her to “the people (Blunt) has hired to answer the questions. The lady I talked to said ‘Oh, my gosh, I did not realize this.’ I will have to go back and write you a letter.’ ”
As he was leaving Sedalia, Blunt said he hoped that Wright was able to talk with the director of the Department of Social Services, and will get a solution to her problem.
But the governor defended the 2005 decision to cut Medicaid services and to change the way in which poor people receive medical care because the state faced a billion-dollar deficit and Medicaid took about one-third of the budget.
“We were very clear that we were not going to do anything to bump somebody up to a higher level of care than where they were today,” Blunt said. “And also that we wouldn’t do anything that was life threatening to somebody. I think she would need to talk to somebody very specifically about her circumstances, and generally there is usually a solution to the problem. ... But we had a broken budget and we fixed it without a tax increase.”
Later Tuesday, three directors of state agencies told The Democrat they would look into Wright’s problems to see whether she might qualify for the items she said she needed. Janel Luck, director of family support, Dr. Ian McCaslin, director of MO Health Net, and Deborah Scott, director of social services, said they would review Wright’s case.
At the Katy Depot, Blunt took a quick tour of the restored building that houses a small museum, gift shop, meeting rooms and Chamber of Commerce offices. He looked at a map that Childers said showed the proposed extension of the Katy Trail from Windsor to Pleasant Hill.
Childers said the extension depends on settlement negotiations with Ameren, which owns the right of way. The state is seeking damages from the utility to pay for damages to the Johnson Shut-Ins State Park caused by the collapse of a dam.
Blunt also browsed the gift shop and posed for a couple of snapshots.
The governor’s tour included a 45-minute visit with Democrat Publisher Dave Phillips and Editor Oliver Wiest.
Blunt’s stop at State Fair Community College lasted less than 20 minutes and included a fast-paced look at the Daum Museum of Contemporary Art and at the construction site of the allied health and science building.
His main reason for stopping there was to see the new building, which will get 25 percent of its construction cost from the Lewis and Clark Discovery Initiative masterminded by Blunt.
He and his entourage marched briskly across the campus while college President Marsha Drennon and a bevy of administrators and politicians strived to keep pace.
Interim Daum Museum Director Doug Freed led the tour of the museum and bid the governor goodbye with a holler:
“Thank you so much for the support of education and the arts, governor,” he shouted.