The race for Sedalia City Council has begun after candidate filing ended Tuesday with six men vying for three seats.
Ward 1 will have a new face on council regardless of the April 5 election’s outcome due to the fact incumbent Jim Cunningham is not seeking re-election. Newcomers Chuck Leftwich and Jeff Leeman will compete for the open seat.
Leftwich is retired from 30 years in retail management, including Nordstrom, Dillard’s and most recently JCPenney in Sedalia. Born and raised in Sedalia, he lived in the Kansas City area for several years, moving back home in 2002. During his retirement he spends time volunteering at the Sedalia Animal Shelter and walking his dog every day down Broadway Boulevard. It’s that activity that sparked his interest in running for office.
“My biggest deciding factor on deciding to run was because when I walk my dog every day, and I see things and I look and I pay attention and I know what’s being addressed and what isn’t,” he said. “I know what I see that stays in place and nothing changes for months and sometimes even longer than that. My whole thing was, as I walk down our historic Broadway Boulevard one day I saw them cutting a hole in the side of a home … and I just couldn’t believe it.
“I had to research and get as many answers as I could and as I did that I would share my findings on social media. … I was contacted by a number of people and the gist was people were glad I was digging into this and trying to get some answers.
“… I had friends and neighbors urging me to run for city council, it was a calling for me to do it. I am retired so I have the time to be involved, I want to get more involved. I want to see if I can make a difference.”
Leftwich said that while there have been plenty of positive improvements in Sedalia, there are a lot of areas that need to be cleaned up, and he believes ordinances should be more strictly enforced.
“That’s why I felt I needed to run for council because I want to get involved, I want to see what’s going on,” he said. “I want to get in there and really try to see what’s going on. I would love to see things turn around and love to see downtown thrive again. … I really want to see things go in a positive direction. If I’m elected, I’m going to have a lot to say.”
Leeman has been in the area since he was stationed at Whiteman Air Force Base, where he worked for 10 years, in 1972 as an Air Force officer. He owned JL Computer Technology for 25 years, sold the business and now works for the purchasing company where he is a computer technician helping maintain the Sedalia School District 200’s computer system.
“I’ve lived here for quite a long time and now that I’ve gotten to the age that I am, I’m able to devote the time; the time is now available to do the job right,” he said of his decision to run. “I have no agenda. I am here to serve the people. That’s just how I’ve looked at it. Treat them with courtesy, respect and honesty.”
He was an officer with the Missouri Department of the American Legion and previously served on two bank boards; he still serves Midwest Regional Bank. He has also served as chairman of the Sedalia Police Personnel Board for more than 10 years.
“(Being in public office) runs in the family,” Leeman said. “My father was a councilman and mayor of my hometown for a long time. It’s a community service thing; it’s an opportunity to give back to the community and all the things I’ve done up until this point will influence those decisions to serve our city well.”
Ward 2 constituents will continue to be represented by Russell Driskell and Bonita Nash, as no one has filed against Nash for the April election.
Councilman Don Meier is seeking a second term in office and has been challenged by W.T. “Tom” Cunningham.
Meier said the almost-completed $30 million sewer relief project has been a highlight of the last two years and he hopes to continue work on other important projects.
“It’s really been a learning experience and I felt like I’ve done a lot of good things for Sedalia and I’d like the opportunity to do it again,” he said. “I’d like to see a new police station, I think we need that, and a community center keeps coming up. It’d be great if there’s some way to finance that, and we need to keep spending money on the streets.”
Meier is retired from the Sedalia Fire Department where he most recently served as deputy fire chief, but also held more positions within the department than in one in SFD’s history. He also worked as an estimator for a construction company. He previously has served on the Traffic Advisory Committee and the Public Works Board.
“I’ve really enjoyed doing it,” Meier said of his first term. “The council seems like they really get along well and I think we make a lot of informed decisions. We don’t please everybody, but we try our best and hopefully please the majority.”
Cunningham is new to public office, but if elected he won’t be new to council meetings, as he attends as many of them as he can.
“I’ve had some issues and called my councilmen and they didn’t respond as quickly as I would have liked so I started going to meetings on a regular basis. I go to about 95 percent of them,” he said. “You know it’s interesting to learn what they’re doing and I’d like to learn more and maybe I can make a difference, and I plan to be a faster responder than my predecessors.”
Cunningham is a Vietnam War era veteran after serving more than 20 years in the U.S. Air Force as security police. He has studied at multiple colleges including Georgia Military College, University of North Carolina, Central Missouri State University (now University of Central Missouri) and State Fair Community College, studying criminal justice, computer science and nursing. He is on the executive board of the Landlords Association in Sedalia and has lived in the city for more than 23 years.
Councilman Tollie Rowe is seeking a third term in office and has been challenged by John Fritz.
Fritz served on the Bothwell Regional Health Center Board of Trustees from 2011 to 2015. He also attempted a run for mayor in 2014, but was later disqualified due $238 in unpaid personal property taxes, which he immediately paid once informed but missed the deadline to appear on the ballot.
He was a political science major, focusing on city government, something he said he has “always had a passion for.”
“I believe there are always ways city government can be more efficient in how it operates and governs,” he said. “I will improve communication with residents through better use of social media tools, if elected. … I think the main thing is, I’ve known Tollie Rowe for more than 20 years, I just disagree with certain decisions Councilman Rowe has made in recent times. He chose to override the recent TIF Commission recommendation and that was a poor decision in my opinion. Council should have accepted the recommendation, period.”
Rowe works as a detective for the Pettis County Sheriff’s Office and is involved in the community, including the CASA board.
“I’m really enjoying it and there’s a lot more I want to do,” he said of running again. “I want to see the sewer project through — I’m the chairman of the Public Works Committee so that’s something I’ve got a lot of interest in. I’m excited we can start working on a new police department. The building hasn’t changed since I was a cadet; we have the fire station, I’d like to pursue a new police department, see what options we have there and stay on the same sound financial course we’re on.”
While a more candidates means a contested race for Rowe, he said he’s happy to see citizens getting involved in city government.
“I’m glad to see a lot of contested races, it’s great when people come forward,” he said. “The best government is when it’s contested — the more races the more involvement we get and better questions we get asked and better the issue can get addressed.”
Nicole Cooke can be reached at 660-530-0138 or @NicoleRCooke.