Sedalia citizens had one last chance to hear from candidates for Sedalia City Council before the April 5 municipal election during a candidate forum Friday afternoon hosted by the Pettis County Pachyderms at Best Western State Fair Inn.
Ward 1 candidate Jeff Leeman, Ward 3 candidates Tom Cunningham and incumbent Don Meier and Ward 4 candidates John Fritz and incumbent Tollie Rowe participated. Ward 1 candidate Chuck Leftwich was unable to attend.
Moderator Stan Cox asked the candidates a few questions, as did members of the audience. Cox didn’t waste any time getting to hot button issues, with the first question being would the candidates support a rental inspection ordinance.
Only one of the six candidates has come out strongly against the idea of rental inspections Fritz. Cunningham has somewhat talked against the issue, saying “we have ordinances that are already on the thing that we could follow and enforce more stringently.”
“The most predominate reason is that it is intrusive in nature, and I think it’s a little ambitious for Sedalia to do this,” Fritz said. “We don’t have anything to prove inspections is going to make a real big difference. I challenge these gentlemen up here: either you’re for the government coming inside our homes or you’re against it. … That’s not that complicated. … The existing laws are sufficient to take care of the safety and welfare of the public. We have an enforcement issue.”
The other three candidates all agreed they didn’t want to take a specific stance at this time since the proposal hasn’t even reached council and the city has not yet reached the point where they are ready to talk with tenants and landlords.
Meier noted there are many deteriorating Sedalia properties and that “some way or another, there’s got to be some guidelines in clearing this up.”
“It is an issue out there, but there is nothing before the council at this time,” Leeman said. “My approach to this is to deal with this like you would a project. There are two sides to the story so we need to get together with the city council, landlords, tenants, everyone involved; let’s have a roundtable. … I would also agree there is an enforcement issue.”
Just before Cox began to ask the next question after Leeman answered, Fritz addressed his fellow candidates.
“This is nothing more than politicians trying to get around the subject. Either you’re for the government coming into a home, or you’re not,” he said as Cox tried to get the candidates to move on. Leeman asked Cox if he could clarify something.
“When you make a statement that we’re coming into a home, let’s first realize what we’re dealing with here. We’re talking about rental properties, we’re not talking about everybody and his brother,” Leeman replied. “As far as the government is concerned, there’s a reason it’s come before the city. There has to be some regulations.”
The next question was from the audience regarding what the candidates think should be done with the Trust Building in downtown Sedalia. Cunningham said he didn’t have an answer. The other candidates didn’t have solid answers either, but said preserving the building is an important endeavor, especially after all the time and money the city and Sedalia Downtown Development Inc. have invested.
Leeman and Fritz both talked about the possibility of receiving funding from the Midtown TIF for the Trust project, but argued about what was true and false about what has been happening with that possible funding.
Audience member Larry Foster, who is part of Leeman’s campaign committee, asked Fritz why he turned in his campaign finance report late this week. Any candidate who has a committee that spends money for campaigning must submit reports to the Missouri Ethics Commission. The eight-day-before financial report was due at 5 p.m. Monday and Fritz did not turn his in until Tuesday afternoon. All other candidates for the April 5 election who have committees were on time.
“When you run for public office, you should run by the state laws and city laws. I checked on the computer to make sure Jeff had his on time and saw John didn’t. … You didn’t get them in until 2 (Tuesday) afternoon. Is there any reason you don’t want to go by state laws?” Foster asked.
“I don’t think there’s any certain reason I want to disregard the law,” Fritz replied. “It was my personal error in figuring out what day it was. I didn’t get the date right is what my response is.”
Cox then asked about another hotly contested issue: the recently approved TIF district in Sedalia. Once again, Fritz has been publicly opposed about council’s approval of the Galaxy West TIF. He cited the area growth of Kohl’s, Steak ‘n Shake and Hobby Lobby as a reason the land should not have qualified for TIF funding.
“I struggle with private use of tax money where it doesn’t need to be used,” Fritz said. “I’m not against the use of incentives to help develop our community … In this situation I’m against the project. My opponent was for it and against it.”
Rowe responded to that claim, saying he had upset even Mayor Stephen Galliher because of his lack of decision until the morning of the council vote.
“I wasn’t for or against it, I was teetering back and forth,” Rowe explained. “I spent a lot of time looking at that issue. … I was concerned about how this whole thing would play out. What made my mind up was talking with people who are not involved with the TIF Commission or the developer — people whose kids go to school with my kids, who will go to these places.”
Leeman said he would’ve voted for the TIF if he had been on council because the city needs to look at all avenues to help development. Cunningham said he is not against TIF in general, but would’ve sided with the TIF Commission’s “no” recommendation. He said he thought the money would have been better spent somewhere else, although there is no money “spent” with a TIF, but rather it affects the taxes of that specific property.
Meier voted for the TIF and said he was in favor because the land sat vacant for decades.
“There were numerous opportunities for the people complaining to develop it,” he said. “Why didn’t they develop it?”
Candidates were also asked about their opinion of a new community center. All candidates said they were in favor of the idea, but Rowe, Meier, Cunningham and Leeman all noted the importance of finding the right funding, as many cities struggle with the maintenance of such a large facility once it is constructed.
Rowe noted that while he is in favor of a community center, most decisions about such a project fall to the Park Board, not council. Council would only be responsible for the land purchase and if the Park Board wants to place a tax increase issue on a ballot.
Nicole Cooke can be reached at 660-530-0138 or @NicoleRCooke.