Three candidates for City Commission met with a grand total of three local constituents Thursday evening at the Chanute Recreation Commission for a forum organized by Kansas Appleseed, a statewide nonprofit that advocates for thriving and inclusive communities across the state, according to its mission statement.
Caleb Smith, a campaign director for Kansas Appleseed in Pittsburg, said that he has organized forums all across southeast Kansas inviting candidates for both school boards and elected city and county positions to the forums.
Smith said his organization ultimately focuses on the health of communities and wants to create more community involvement with the forums, as participation in local elections was often disappointing.
“These are the most important elections for citizens’ day-to-day lives,” he said. “An involved community is a healthy community.”
Martha McCoy and Tim Egner, and Eddie Rosenberger were the only three candidates in the room. All three are experienced candidates touting time served on the commission. McCoy said that she had been elected twice for a total of four years. Egner has also been elected twice, and appointed once for a total of 10 years, and Rosenberger is an incumbent candidate who was appointed to the commission this year.
In their introductions, McCoy said that she was a lifelong citizen of Chanute and wanted to keep citizens happy. Egner felt that he didn’t accomplish what he had set out to do in his previous time on the commission, giving the example of improving sidewalks in the community as a project he would like to see accomplished. Rosenberger identified himself as a transplant to Chanute, but has spent 17 years in the community. He said that the city is moving in a positive direction and wants to see that continue.
“This community has given a lot to me and I want to give back,” Rosenberger said.
The candidates all agreed that the city has made a lot of strides in recent memory with the addition of several businesses to the community. Housing is a struggle that all three acknowledged is an issue as the city grows.
“New industries are employing a lot of people,” McCoy said. “Our housing stock is kind of low; we need to have the housing market pick up.”
Egner agreed with the sentiment. He harkened back to his time on city commission when Spirit AeroSystems was being courted to move into Chanute.
“When Spirit came in, one big concern for their higher-ups was that they didn’t have anywhere to live in the types of homes that they were used to,” he said. “There were some that commuted from Wichita. I own an apartment complex and rent to a guy that lives in Tulsa, but stays here throughout the week because the housing he wants isn’t available.”
The trio also agreed that the city commission needed to work more closely with other governing bodies like the county commission to synchronize efforts for the community as a whole. McCoy called out the school board members for not attending the forum.
“It’s too bad the school board members aren’t here,” McCoy said. “They (the commission) should back schools more than they do and ask, ‘What can we do for you?’ They don’t know or don’t think about how they can ask us questions.”
Egner had more focus on city services and rising utility rates. He explained that the jump in sewer rates was because of aging infrastructure in the city. He said that underground pipes have burst, so the city was treating more water than it was selling to consumers. The city is in the process of fixing the problem, but if they didn’t, they would potentially be required by the federal government to build a new water treatment facility, which has an estimated price tag of around $25 million dollars, according to Egner.
City-provided fiber optic internet was another project Egner would like to address if he were elected. He said that having fiber optic internet available to homes and businesses could encourage more small businesses to relocate to Chanute, as well as help all citizens since the internet is becoming more and more of a necessity for everyone.
“It’s considered a utility now,” he said. “You’re going to have internet, so rather than send the money to Phoenix where Sparklight is headquartered, why not keep that money local?”
Rosenberger’s goal is to grow the local economy and increase median income for the area. He championed the recent local business expansions and said that the median income could be on its way up.
“Overall we are moving in a positive forward motion,” Rosenberger said. “We have invested a lot of money, but I think we’re seeing results.”
The Chanute Chamber of Commerce is also hosting a candidate forum as it does for all local elections. It will be held Thursday, Oct. 24, at 6 pm in the Memorial Auditorium. Potential questions from anyone in the community can be submitted until Oct. 17 by calling the Chamber office at 620-431-3350 or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org