City candidates stress honesty, openness, civility
An hour-long candidate forum last week in Marion Community Center ballroom was long on suggestions for greater transparency, honesty, and civility in city government.
But, with candidates limited to two-minute responses and only one of them, Mike Powers, typically using all that time, it was short on specific suggestions for how to achieve those goals.
Questions were posed by county commissioner David Mueller and longtime high school social science teacher Grant Thierolf. No audience questions were allowed.
Advance voting will begin Oct. 18. Election Day will be Nov. 7.
Candidates with opposition
Three candidates are seeking two four-year terms on the council:
Tim Baxa, a stay-at-home dad, said he wanted to make Marion a place his five children would want to come back to.
He grew up in Cuba, Kansas.
“My old town is dying, turning into a ghost town,” he said. “It’s hard to watch. I want to give back to help future generations.”
He listed taxes and inflation as his top priorities.
“I don’t want it to be, ‘Let’s raise more taxes to pay for this,’ ” he said. “We need to find out as much information as possible to try to hold down spending where we can and find other sources of revenue.”
He supported what he termed “a courteous level of leadership.”
“I’m opposed to a form of intimidation to get people to do things,” he said. “The mayor can only do so much.”
He suggested scheduling special meetings so community members could know when to come forward with ideas.
Honesty and transparency are needed, he said.
“None of us are perfect,” he said. “We need to recognize we’re human and going to make mistakes but must fess up and learn from them.”
Finding humility is key, he said, adding that council members should be in the positions of servants, not masters.
Incumbent Ruth Herbel, a retiree who has lived in Marion for 56 years, stressed how she had time and experience to do research council members need to do to “protect the community and try to move it forward.”
Herbel, whose attempts to raise questions at council meetings frequently have been met with hostility from other members, seemed optimistic that this could change.
“With a new council, we can do great things,” she said. “With this group up here, I think we can accomplish things.”
She wants the council to come together and be more open in its communication.
The city is losing businesses, she said, and must encourage investment and address infrastructure.
“We keep raising the budget, and we spend it all every year,” she said. “We don’t get reserves. I live within a budget, and I expect the city to do the same.”
She stressed honesty, integrity, and transparency and offered several suggestions, including restoring a public comment forum before council members vote on issues.
She also endorsed a plan to have the council discuss a topic at one meeting but not vote on it until the next meeting to allow greater time for research and discussion.
Noting that Marion is virtually alone in how it has structured its city government, she called for cleaning up ambiguity in the city’s charter ordinances, bringing ordinance and code books up to date, fixing streets, encouraging residents to clean gutters, repairing wash-out damage to Elm and Locust Sts., creating housing, and controlling spending rather than raising taxes and utility rates.
“We could become a destination city,” she said. “We work for the citizens of Marion.”
Amy Smith said she moved to Marion 2½ years ago because she wanted “something safe” for her four children, with resources for a special-needs child, and found Marion to be a community that “treats everybody like family.”
“Lately, there is a large divide,” she said. “Hopefully, we can get Marion back to that.”
Unity, transparency, and honesty “have been certainly forgotten,” she said.
Although emphasizing that wanted to be “a servant without an agenda,” she also called for more conservative city spending.
She said having lived in a larger community (Albuquerque) gave her “an extra set of experiences” that she could use to help make Marion a place her children would want to come back to when they’re grown.
It requires patience to be a mother of four, she said.
“I have my own voice and speak my mind,” she said.
She suggested doing additional surveying to find out what residents want.
Council members need to “agree to disagree and find common ground,” she said.
If they make mistakes, she said, they must “own up to it.”
One candidate is unopposed for an unexpired two-year term on the council, and one is unopposed for mayor.
Kevin Burkholder, unopposed for the remaining two years on a term he was appointed to fill four months ago, stressed his experience as a business owner and lifelong resident.
“I have learned a lot and have a lot more to learn,” he said, adding that he vowed not to allow hidden agendas. “I do not want to keep citizens in the dark. Hopefully, we can make some changes.”
He said his focus would be on maintaining local businesses and, as with other candidates, giving “younger people a reason to come back to Marion.”
“It’s going to be a big hurdle,” he said.
He stressed his willingness to be open-minded and listen and touted his experience as a member of the Marion Country Club board of directors.
He said he wanted to encourage people to get involved.
“It’s easy to sit back and complain, ‘Why did they make that decision?’ ” he said. “If we don’t get input, it’s hard. We’re not mind-readers.”
Like Herbel, he would prefer getting information at one meeting and not having to vote on it until the next meeting.
“Disagreeing means we’re looking at all aspects of solving a problem,” he said. “If a vote doesn’t go my way, I still plan to support the council.”
He suggested trying new things.
“The only people who don’t make mistakes are those who aren’t doing anything,” he said.
He suggested continued infrastructure improvements and controlling taxes and spending.
Mike Powers, unopposed for mayor, stressed his leadership skills, including 28 years as chief judge of the 8th Judicial District, in charge of budgeting for as many as 100 employees.
“I’ve watched city politics over the years,” Powers said. “Why do they treat each other like that?”
He said he had proved his ability to work with diverse groups and get them to reach consensus by “letting everyone be heard in a respectful fashion.”
Powers listed concerns with the city water plant and economic development as top priorities.
“The ship’s named the Titanic,” he quipped. “I don’t know how we can move forward if we don’t come together.”
“I think I’m a leader,” he said, citing his service as president of Kiwanis Club, a football announcer for 30 years, a former Eagle Scout, and a past president of a Kansas district judges association.
He wants to reach out to schools, medical organizations, and the county to cooperate on projects and wants to focus on issues raised in the city’s strategic plan.
One technique he suggested was to form a series of committees, with council members as leaders, to get residents involved in issues.
“We need to learn to rely on each other to be trustworthy,” he said.
He said he had learned to be self-aware and see himself as others see him.
“I’m scared for this community,” he said. “We have to change the way we do things and treat each other with decency.”