A candidate forum took place Monday evening for those competing for offices on the Geary County Commission.
Candidates for District 1 Republican candidates Brad Scholz, who currently occupies the seat, Todd Godfrey, Mike Rhodes and Independent candidate Trish Giordano, all took part in the forum. Candidate for District 2 Incumbent Republican Charles Stimatze and Democratic candidate Alex Tyson were also present.
Commissioner for District 3 Keith Ascher is also up for election, but he is unchallenged and so did not take part in the forum.
During the discussion, participants answered questions from the community, a handful of which they were aware of ahead of time and a handful of which they were not.
The off-the-cuff questions started with one about Geary Community Hospital. They were asked what they would do to help make the hospital successful and if they’d take an active role in hospital board meetings.
“Anytime you’ve got the opportunity to listen to firsthand what’s going on, I think you should — you should be able to,” Rhodes said.
He said he would like to see the county commissioner who attends hospital meetings made an official board member so they could take part in executive sessions during meetings of the GCH Board of Trustees.
Tyson said he believed the current GCH board was good, but said county commissioners should take an active role in board meetings. On the prospect of raising taxes to help GCH, he said it seemed unnecessary.
“I really don’t believe that we need to raise taxes to do that,” he said. “we should be able to look at our budget and find efficiencies within that to be able to help support them in their quest to get (out) from under the thumb of the loan funds.”
Godfrey said the county had a seat at the table and needed to make more use of it. He encouraged the hiring of a financial manager.
“We have a seat at the table and we need to use it effectively,” he said. “And communication is the biggest part of it. It should not be a secret why the hospital is in its current financial situation. We had a seat at the table, we just didn’t sit at it. I think it’s essential for us to be involved in the process to be educated and informed on what’s actually going on.”
Giordano praised GCH’s detailed strategic plan but said the hospital was not out of its bad financial situation yet. She said she felt GCH was back on the right track, but that issues with indigent care — and with people failing to pay their bills — had not gone away with recent infusions of money.
“I pulled all the the minutes from the county’s past commission meetings and May 1, 2017,” Giordano said. “One of the commissioners asked when we would be in crisis mode, and it was told then, may 1 2017, we were in crisis mode, and the commission did nothing to try to offset that crisis.”
Stimatze said the commission did have a seat at the GCH table and that it attended these meetings monthly.
“All three of us are there at the hospital and know what’s going on,” he said.
He conceded that they did not go into executive sessions with the board, but said the commissioners had a positive relationship with the current GCH CEO.
Scholz said he believed the county should receive more frequent updates on the subject of GCH’s finances. He spoke about the current financial situation at GCH, talking about what the county contributes to the hospital and expressed unwillingness to raise taxes.
“We have to look at this with regards to fixing the problem before we start throwing more money at it,” Scholz said.
The second question was on remaining ethical during their time in office and how they would avoid conflicts of interest, if they were elected.
Tyson encouraged the hiring of someone to help the county administer its finances, which he believed would help prevent conflicts. He also said he wanted to see the meetings live streamed.
“Being transparent, that goes all the way back to making the meetings more open, giving a more open forum to voters and the people of our community,” Tyson said. “That way, they can really get to the nitty gritty and ask tough questions of us. I think they’re at least owed that.”
Godfrey said he would like to create a financial manager position if elected.
“I think there’s been some questionable things that have been done in the past,” he said. “And people often question that and they don’t get the answers that they want.”
He said as a business owner that there could be a conflict generated, which use of a financial manager and legal counsel could help with. He also encouraged meetings being more open and accessible to the public.
Giordano said she planned to retire from her position as a Captain with the Junction City Police Department to prevent any conflicts of interest.
She said she believed ethics and transparency were important.
“Being transparent and ethical and honest, are pretty much everything I do at my job now,” Giordano said. “So I think it is extremely important.”
Stimatze said he believed the commission was doing things right already.
“I think with us, we are transparent,” he said of the current commissioners. “I don’t think since I’ve been on it for four years that we have done anything that is not transparent, everything is out on the website … We are not hiding anything. There’s no reason to hide anything.”
Scholz said if there was a conflict of interest, a commissioner should abstain from voting.
“If there’s a conflict of interest, you abstain, and you don’t take part in the decision making that is part of that conflict,” he said. “The best form of transparency is getting out and talking to the people. Everyone works different hours. No one has set hours, get out in your community, talk to your people.”
Rhodes said open meetings were the most important part of being transparent and that it was important to keep lines of communication open with constituents.
“Seeking input from from your fellow neighbors, your fellow people that you go to church with, that you go to Dillons with, that you go to Walmart with. I think all of those things you need to be open and honest about it, you need to listen,” he said. “That;s one of the biggest things is listening, to me.”
Rhodes works at GCH and said he would resign his position if elected.
Candidates were also asked about diversity and what they might do to make local boards and committees more reflective of the community.
“Geary County is the melting pot of Kansas,” Godfrey said. “We have a huge nationality that’s represented here because of the military. We need to encourage people of color or ethnicity to step forward. And we need to open our arms to them and encourage them to create small business to have a seat at the table, and what’s being done in this county and have a voice on the direction of this county.”
Giordano said she was proud of her community’s diversity and that living here has made her more well-rounded as a person. She expressed pride in the amount of diversity at the JCPD. Giordano said she believed it would be helpful to go out into the community and attempt to recruit people to serve on local boards and committees who might not otherwise have considered doing such a thing.
“There’s a lot of smart and talented people out there and we need to go find them,” Giordano said.
Stimatze said he already encouraged people to be involved in their community.
“I encourage everybody that I meet within my commission job with my other job, no matter what race (or) background, to get out and vote, to get out into your community,” he said. “This community is great, like everybody else has said. I was transplanted here in ’03 from Western Kansas and I just love this community because of the diversity and the passion that this community has.”
Scholz said he felt it was important to make people of all sorts feel comfortable serving the community.
“I would challenge anyone to be more versed in what we are,” Scholz said. “ I think the key to having more diversity is making people feel comfortable to be on these boards, making people feel comfortable volunteering. If we don’t do that, we’re not going to get diversity as far as people being on these boards or volunteering in our community. That’s where we’ve got to start. We need to reach out to those individuals.”
Rhodes agreed it was important to make people feel comfortable.
“We don’t have to hire everybody that looks just like us,” he said. “You need to be able to get those first people. Glass ceilings (do) more than just hold women back, too. They hold all kinds of other people back too for all kinds of different reasons. Being raised in the military and around the military, I never knew what segregation was about. I never knew that you couldn’t have a friend who was a different color than you … I sometimes struggle with that now — why people can’t and why people don’t listen to each other.”
Tyson said Junction City’s diversity is what drove him and his family to settle here in the first place when he exited the military. He said he would like to see more diversity and also more younger people taking an active role in their community,
“At the end of the day, their kids are the ones being raised in our great community,” Tyson said. “So I think opening your arms to to different people is the best way to go about it.”
This is not the entirety of the candidate forum.
Candidates discussed budgeting and taxes as well. In order to make a choice on who to cast their ballot for, voters should hear what the candidates had to say on all the issues.
For more information on the discussion and the candidates’ positions on the issues, people may watch the full forum online on the Junction City Area Chamber of Commerce’s Facebook page. The video can be viewed at www.facebook.com/watch/?v=323564105343772 for those who would like to hear more.