City of Grant mayoral candidates discuss issues at debate
Approximately 180 attended the mayoral debate and candidate meet-and-greet hosted by the Grant Tribune-Sentinel on Wednesday evening, April 4 at the Perkins County Fairgrounds.
Grant Mayoral candidates Lisa Schmitt, Matt Greenwood, Bryce Anderson and Tim Pofahl answered seven questions submitted by the public and presented opening and closing statements.
Two of the four candidates will advance from the primary election on May 15 to the general election on Nov. 6.
Grant City Council and Perkins County District No. 2 Commissioner candidates were given the opportunity to speak. City council candidates include Andrea Brueggeman, Darrell Pierce, Chase Sauder, Edward Dunn, Kirk York and Noel Bullock and Distric No. 2 commissioner candidates include Bernard Deaver, Ronald Hagan and James Vak.
Four city council candidates and one commissioner candidate will advance to the general election on Nov. 6. The commissioner candidate will run unopposed and two city council candidates will be elected in November.
Perkins County School and Hospital Board candidates were introduced. School board candidates include Ryan Hendricks, Amy Kroeker, Adair Reese, Angela Gloy and Chirs Fryzek. Hospital board candidates include Bonnie Taubenheim, Mary Jo Gengenbach, Richard Thurin and Fryzek.
Three hospital board members will be decided at the primary and the school board members will be forwarded to the general election, where three will be chosen.
A meet and greet followed the debate. The full event, which was moderated by John Long, can be viewed on the Tribune's Facebook page by clicking here.
Please explain what you understand to be the general and specific authority of the mayor?
Greenwood: My understanding of the mayor’s position is the mayor is the chief executive officer of the city. He’s supposed to conduct a meeting, break the ties and conduct the meetings. I don’t believe he’s supposed to be able to vote on any particular issue.
As far as the city itself goes, it is my understanding that all the employees answer to the mayor and the mayor only.
Anderson: As far as the city council goes, you have the four votes there. You also have the mayor that can be the tiebreaker, but the mayor also does have a vote. Whether there are two people on the council that vote yes and one person votes no, the mayor can also vote to break that even though the fourth individual isn’t there.
You have your duties as far as the local contractors within the community. You need to ensure the funds are being appropriated to the right locations. You need to watch your expenses as far as the city goes, too.
As far as hiring people within the city or within the community, the city superintendent is going to be your responsibility, however, the rest of the employees may not. You’re going to have some say in it. You have to hold people responsible and make sure that the community’s thoughts are heard as well, not only certain individuals.
Pofahl: As far as the functioning of the mayor within the city, you have the opportunity to oversee meetings, also oversee operations of the city and the functioning of the city, not get involved in the day-to-day operations of the city. We have people hired to do that. But if there are concerns with things that are happening out there, oversee that.
Help in the budgeting process and also watch the financials so that you’re staying on target with that. Once you get behind in that line, it’s hard to catch up.
Also, one of the main functions is to listen to you, the citizens. If you’ve got an issue, come talk to me. I’d love to listen to you. I’m not always going to make the decision that you agree with, but we’re going to listen, work things out.
I don’t see a complaint as a big issue. I see a complaint as an opportunity to better something in the city that’s happening.
Schmitt: I say the mayor, the key role is being the person who leads the people. A strong leadership.
Like my fellow candidates have said, the mayor breaks the vote in a council meeting, gets the council meeting going. He helps the employees with issues and passes those on to the city council.
But I think the most important thing that the mayor does is the leader of the community and getting out there and really finding out what the people believe should be going on and how we should be moving forward.
What does being a resident of Grant mean to you? How do you intend to further create or reestablish a good working relationship between city officials and the residents of Grant?
Anderson: I moved here in 2002 and we were welcomed here with open arms. I served my country for 14.5 years. I served my community for a short stint with the sheriff’s department for a year and with railroading for the last 14.5.
I’ve managed property, anywhere from the range of 23 employees on it, as far as the railroad goes, to 160.
I know what it is to not be heard. I’ve been in that position where I’ve worked for several different supervisors throughout the military and throughout my career with the railroad, and I felt that my opinion didn’t matter.
The thing is, everybody’s opinion matters and you should have an open door policy. For those of you that don’t know what that is, it’s being able to come into that individual’s office and tell them what you think.
You shouldn’t be judged for your opinion, and I think some of that goes on, but then again, every opinion should be heard. Every opinion is actually a good opinion. You can gather those opinions together to come up with a solution.
As far as community, I think there’s a lot of potential here. There are a lot of bright people in this community. You have a lot of people with experience that have been on the board before as far as the city council. You have county commissioners that I’ve talked to. A wealth of knowledge out there, whether they’re still on these committees or not.
It’s just amazing. Some of the ideas that have come up that people have addressed to me. I’d like to act on those and move forward with the community with an open mind and an open heart.
Pofahl: Having resided in the City of Grant for 31 years, moving into the community, looking back at that, why did we decide to come to Grant? Seeing all the facilities and stuff that was here hasn’t changed a lot. We’ve seen some stores move and things, but we still have the main functions of the city.
I want other people coming into the city to see that today, what we saw 30 years ago, and welcome them into the community with open arms.
How are we going to help get everybody involved in the city is said over and over. Open communications. Feel free to talk. If you’ve got something that you want to say and you don’t bring it up, nobody’s going to know it.
I would like to get the boards full and involved in our city functions. The city council and the mayor, we can’t do everything, we need that support of the boards, so that falls back on to the individuals.
But at the same time, if the boards come to the council with a question, or they come to support something happening, we need to listen to you, because you’re our feet out there. You’re gathering information for us. We can’t know everything. I’m sorry, but we can’t.
Schmitt: I’ve lived in Grant for 19 years and being a resident of Grant means that I’m part of a small, close-knit community. So in turn that makes me responsible, in part, for our town and that I need to do what I can for my town.
What does this mean?
Responsible for helping raise funds for the library so they can have new carpet, books, DVDS or shelving. If there’s trash on the street, I pick it up. If a group or individual needs help, I help. When I see the need for someone to do something, I tend to be that someone.
If I were elected mayor, I would be the someone who begins the sharing of public information to reestablish a better working relationship with the city officials and the residents.
The easiest and cheapest and quickest way would be to post public information on the city website. New ordinances, city agendas, city reports, good news and the not so good news would be easily available. Information is a great way to create a relationship. It leads to open communication about what are the needs in the community.
Greenwood: I moved here in 1988-89. I’ve lived here full-time since 2004. I think the best way for us to reconnect with our city and to be able to get people involved again is we just need to be nice. We’re just not nice sometimes. The nicer we are the more people are going to help us do things.
I think that’s the biggest thing right there.
In an effort to gain an educated grasp of the issues facing the City of Grant, please share if you have been attending city council meetings. Based on your attendance or lack thereof, what are your feelings about the issues currently facing the city?
Pofahl: I have had the opportunity to attend a couple meetings since I filed. Previously, I served eight years on the council. The recent meetings that I’ve attended, there really hasn’t been a whole lot on the agenda right now, it’s been pretty short. Whether that’s a good thing or bad thing, I know there are issues out there.
I hate to bring up kind of a sore subject around, but you know my concern is, we went to the work of doing the water meters and we’re still not using anything with those. We put a lot of expense out there. I’ve had that voiced to me, not just through the meetings. Those things need to be addressed on that side of it.
But at the current time, and not being active before filing, I don’t see a whole lot of issues out there now. But in between this time, I’ll be more active in the meetings.
Schmitt: I have been attending the city council meetings for the last three years and taking notes, lots of notes, (displaying a three-inch binder full of notes.) I’ve been listening to lots of different people and concerned community members. Terry Galloway, the city auditor, that one you fall asleep on. I’ve been listening to the council members, the councilwoman, the councilmen. I’ve been listening to West Central Nebraska Department District. I’ve been listening to stuff about the lift station, the abatement process, bids for city insurance, the automated weather station, about the airport, about the roads, about the budgets. I’ve been listening a lot, and I’ve been asking a lot of questions.
The current issues that I see from all the listening and note taking, as I see them, are the revitalization of our downtown, the housing problem, recruiting businesses, taking care of abandoned and dilapidated properties, getting people to shop locally, it’s important, updating and maintaining our amenities such as the ball fields, golf course and park.
And in order to accomplish these goals, we need a strong, positive, leadership, transparency and a team-like environment.
Greenwood: I’ve been attending the meetings for two-and-a-half-years. I’ve missed two, and it’s been recently.
We have some issues in town, like one of the other candidates said, we have issues with the water meters. We still have water pressure issues, even though we’re told that they don’t exist, we do have them. We need to find out why.
We need to work on our downtown. We need to work on some of our intersections in town that are horribly rough.
We need housing. We need jobs. All that stuff matters but unless we can start making our town look better, with improving our downtown, with improving the dilapidated properties, the ones that need to be cleaned up or removed, we’re not going to get people to move here. Nobody wants to move into a junk pile.
I think if we do that, and we do it nicely, we’ll be able to get it done.
Anderson: Taking a look at the big picture, the last city council meeting I went to I just kind of sat in through it. I heard there could be some action there but there weren’t a lot of people there that night so I didn’t get a lot out of it. But I did follow up with some city council members, along with county commissioners, kind of looking at the big picture as far as not only Grant, but Perkins County as a whole.
I think everybody within the county has a say in what happens in Grant and you have a lot of investment here. Whether you live outside the city limits, you still contribute to this community and everybody’s voices need to be heard.
Some of the concerns that were brought to me were lack of housing, and I’ve seen that. I’ve tried to hire people for my business here in town, and they can’t find housing here so they turn me down and they move away. I’m turning away jobs at the same process and if you take a look at the big picture, you’re losing tax money within the community as well. Housing is a big issue for me and that’s probably one of my key factors for being here and running for mayor.
Some of the other things we’re taking a look at are the curbs and the streets down Central Avenue. You have concrete sitting in the gutter that needs to be picked up. The curbs, gutters and sidewalks need to be addressed. Some of that is the responsibility of the state since it is a highway, but we need to be able to work with the state department and get that fixed. They’re coming out here to broaden the shoulders, why not do it at that time?
Baby Land at the cemetery. I had a citizen come to me and talk about the plots at the cemetery for children under the age of 16. I think it’s an awesome idea. Not every family can afford a funeral and you know it’s pretty hard on the family. And I think as a community, we can help out with that as well.
Ongoing water project. I don’t know if a lot of you guys know, but the water meters are up and running. I went over and took a look at the graphs already. We’re waiting for Midwest Electric to figure out the billing, and once that comes out they’re going to be off.
They’ve already found faults in some of the homes around here as far as leaking faucets and toilets, over thousands of extra gallons being wasted out here. It’s a neat little system if you go over there and talk to the people at the city I’m sure they’ll be more than happy to show it to you.
What is your plan to keep the City of Grant thriving and growing and how do you see that plan coming to fruition?
Schmitt: I would facilitate a partnership consisting of the city manager, the Community Redevelopment Authority Board and other entities to build a strong forward-thinking strategic plan that would include revitalizing our downtown, utilizing the civic and community financing fund and the Nebraska Department of Economic Development, building duplexes or townhouses in the $145-165,000 range using Nebraska Tax Increment Financing, recruit businesses to Grant, adding an automated weather station to the airport and updating or maintaining our precious amenities such as the ballpark, golf course and park.
Greenwood: We need to get people interested in moving to town, whether it’s through new business, new housing, extracurricular activity through the park, through the baseball fields, whatever.
People play hockey, people play football, extracurricular, we don’t have any of that stuff currently. I think, increasing our recreation, our park, will help bring people to town.
Anderson: I brought it up already once before and looking at the big picture, in trying to get businesses to town, in order to get those businesses to town, you’ve got to have a town worth moving into. You’ve got to have the housing there provided for those employees that those businesses are going to bring in as well.
You have to be able to provide a place to grow. I’ve talked to several businesses within the community that are looking at growing within the next year. There are going to be more jobs within the community. We’re looking at shuttle loaders along the rail line in Grant, so major overhauls on the rail systems here. We’re going to bring in employees to work the crossings here in town that we’re going to hit this year.
There are a lot of different variables throughout the system, but I have to say that we have a good team in place right now as far as the city council goes. There are some new members that are running and I’m sure they have some ideas that are just as good.
If you haven’t taken a look, look at the Grant website today. There was an article posted on there and it tells you what achievements we’ve had in this community over the last five years. A lot of people talk about bringing businesses to town and stuff, and that’s the first step. You always want to take that first step forward, rather than take those two steps back. You look what’s been accomplished so far and that city council has done an outstanding job.
I think we can grow on that and I think we can attract some local businesses as far as expansion. I think we’re going to attract some people back into our community. I’m going to work on that whether I’m the mayor or not. I’m still going to push to bring business to Grant and help out the community
Pofahl: As far as kind of repeating back, being a tail end on this question, the big thing is bringing businesses into the community of working through some economic development committees outside the city, go out and recruit some businesses.
Yeah, it would be great to bring a business in that’s asking for or needing 50 to 75 employees, but I think that’s maybe a little unrealistic. Go out, look for businesses that maybe can bring into town five or 10 employees here, another one that’s five or 10, build on that. If you can get something started with some smaller ones, the bigger ones may follow.
Yes, we have to get some housing and I know that’s brought up all the time, but you drive the streets of Grant and there are a lot of for sale signs out there. I know people moving into town maybe don’t want to buy immediately and I know the rentals are an issue, but there’s a lot of housing for sale out there. It’s a matter of promoting it and getting the people in to look at it.
What is your opinion as to what the city should do with the vacant and dilapidated properties in town?
Greenwood: Many small communities offer vacant building lots and small houses that are run down, they offer them for free to get people to move to town to rehabilitate them and move into them to get people to move to their community. I think that’s something we should consider. I think we have a lot of opportunities that way we could look at.
Our biggest thing is we need to not worry about the big $500-600,000 houses. We need to worry about these small houses for people to move into. Apartments, I think that would be the best way to look at some of those properties.
Anderson: Looking at the vacant lots in town, I believe there are three, I may be off on that, I would like to see the city open those up for sale or for auction to the community. I know there are some people in town that would like to build newer homes. You just don’t have the lots available in town.
You do have some homes for sale in town. Some of those homes are two and three bedroom and they’re dinky houses. If you’ve got four or five kids coming into town and you want to expand, good luck.
I’d like to see an apartment complex be built on one. The city can’t do it, but I think we can come up with a way to help fund that. The lots need to be sold, but not to anyone that’s going to go ahead and use it for storage and park their cars on it. Let’s use it to develop Grant.
Pofahl: As far as the vacant lots around town, the city does own some of those. Through the abatement process, they ended up with those. I know they’ve attempted to sell some of those, nothing came of it.
Not that the abatement or the nuisance program was a bad deal, we cleaned up around town a lot. The vacant lots, Grant isn’t out of the ordinary if you go and drive around some other communities.
We just need to progress forward as we get people coming in. There’s a possibility that they could buy those lots and build their own on that.
Schmitt: The City of Grant currently has a partnership with West Central Nebraska Development District, which has helped guide property owners to clean up there lots or their homes and business. We should continue this partnership with West Central Nebraska Development District, because they are a third party who’s neutral and whose experienced with these types of situations.
Grant, like many city municipalities, does struggle with a few vacant, some abandoned and some tax delinquent properties, but the exciting thing is that there are many resources out there and partnerships that need to be explored that could assist us in building apartment buildings, or cleaning up those properties or getting better curb appeal. Some of those resources are the Nebraska Municipal Land Bank, the Nebraska Department of Economic Development and of course Southwest Community Betterment Corporation, we definitely need to partner with Amy and she has such great ideas and things that we can be doing through her, Nebraska Main Street and then the tax increment financing, which is really something Ogallala has taken advantage of. They have 20 different TIF, which is the tax increment financing, projects they have done.
They were able to do that beautiful pavilion in Ogallala. They didn’t use the TIF, but they partnered with two of the resources I talked about and it was hardly for anything. They partnered with TIF and took care of those two old motels and put in apartment buildings and some businesses.
There are a lot of resources out there that we need to take advantage of to help grow and take care of properties here in Grant.
Please state your position on building a new city swimming pool and bathhouse and how do you foresee financing this project, including tax dollars?
Anderson: I’ve gotta be honest with all of you, the pool is not my priority. There are a lot of things in town right now that need to be fixed. I agree we do need a pool, or at least to have it improved. I believe the bathhouse needs to be replaced.
I think there are funds out there. As a business manager, I went to my parent company, Omnitracks outside of Denver, I’ve gotten donations for the bathhouse. If I didn’t believe in it, we wouldn’t have donated.
I think it’s very important to the community, I think you’re going to attract some of those younger families to the community and that’s a start. There are a lot of conversations about it. There are a lot of different variables in there as far as what the pool is going to cost. I’ve seen a couple of plans that were drawn up, whether they were passed around town or at the city office themselves, some of the finances as well.
I’d like to sit down with the pool committee if elected mayor and get a better perspective on it. I don’t quite have it yet. I think there’s going to be a lot of money tied up into it and I think we should leave it up to the taxpayers to vote on it, whether they want it and what level they want it at.
Pofahl: I am in favor of the pool and bathhouse at some level. It all comes down to the financing of that project. We got a parks and rec board, there’s a pool committee out raising funds, we have a half a percent of our sales tax designated to the pool project.
I have to think that there are some other opportunities out there to get some help, some grants or something. As you look around at the different pools that have been built around the state of Nebraska, there are several built in this same size community or smaller in proportion to what we’re looking at trying to work forward to.
They were able to do it, there’s no reason we can’t do it here in Grant. We just need to get very active behind the project.
Schmitt: The good news is in 2012, we did vote on the pool. When Tyson [McGreer, previous city superintendent] was here, he rallied us to pass the sales and use tax and part of the reason we said yes to increase the sales tax was so that we could have money to build a new pool, and our community would benefit from a new pool and bathhouse.
The tub is 27 years past its life expectancy and the bathhouse is in dire needs of repair. This would keep money in the community, a little bit; people wouldn’t be leaving town to go swim somewhere else.
But the most important thing is our community pride in our amenities. When people come here to look at Grant, or come here for a swim meet, or they bring grandkids here and they go to that pool, I tell you, that it is a shame on us.
The funds raised by the Perkins County Pool Committee for the aquatic center and the funds that have been and will be generated for this project is so close to being done. You can see the grandkids out there holding the kid’s hand and later resting in the shade, and the big kids running to the slide and Dad or Mom making laps. You can just see it, because we’re that close.
The sales and use tax, which was voted by Grant residents in 2012, will expect to generate close to $1.6 million, on the conservative side, plus the $200,000 that was raised by the committee, leaves only about $500,000 to raise. $500,000. We could do that writing grants if there was a contract. If we can move forward, we can write grants and get that much.
If I were elected there’d be no reason for me to be on the committee, because we are so close to completion.
I’m running for mayor because I’m interested in our community, and it’s time for progress to be made for all things Grant.
Greenwood: I’m fully in favor of the pool. Where I grew up, back in the early 60s, my community took the time, got the major factors together and they built a brand new, indoor, competition-sized pool. I think we can do that here, but it would take some serious effort between the city, the county, school district and the major employers. They’d all have to be involved in it.
We do have a lot of the money to rebuild what we have and build new. I would like to see a definite set of blueprints that would tell us how much we need to raise and not just an artist’s concept drawings of it.
How much do we actually have to have? That’s a major thing. We can have a drawing of it. They say, oh that’s 2.7. Well, it might actually, when you get done, be less and it might be more. I would like to see that.
I’m fully in favor of it, whatever we have to do to get there, because we have money in the city budget to do it. We just have to move it around to get it.
Are there personnel changes you feel need to be made. If so, please give reasons for such changes that do not include attacks on any individual’s personal and private life.
Pofahl: I know there are a lot of concerns out there, I’ve had them voiced to me, people questioning city personnel across the board. It’s easy to look from the outside looking in.
If elected mayor, I would like to have the opportunity to review the personnel, review their functions in the city and lastly, I do not feel to discuss what would happen as far as personnel. This is not the place for that, in front of a large group like this.
Schmitt: This is a good question. I plan on retaining or recruiting employees who are willing to work towards progress, ones who have a professional attitude towards every person who walks into city hall, because officials and employees are public servants and we need to be professional.
Upon my election of being mayor, I will assess the staff and see what or if changes need to be made.
Greenwood: I would like to say that we wouldn’t need to change personnel, but I believe that would probably have to happen, mostly because we have employees that are not nice. I’ve experienced it, prior to being in office, of employees flat not being nice to me. Maybe they can change, I hope they can and I would like to just kind of leave it at that.
Anderson: If you know me, I can speak my mind sometimes, but I work for a large company and we do have an HR department. It was actually addressed that maybe I not comment on this because there are some illegal ramification on this question if you answer incorrectly.
Are there changes that need to be made? Possibly, I don’t know, I don’t work with those individuals at the city. I haven’t. I run a business. We have a multi-million dollar company based out of Grant, Nebraska and that’s NKC Railway. I have an HR department. I have a legal department. You don’t just step in and start firing people. You need to take a look at the big picture. If you’re out there, and you have a problem with somebody not following the rules and the regulations then you need to address it, and you need to address it correctly. There are a lot of things that can come back and bite you in the butt if you don’t. I’ve worked through these. I work with a union, it’s a national union based out of Nashville, and I’ve run into those problems here recently. I’ve had two employees I’ve had to walk out that door. I’m not afraid to do it.
In the military, I had a list of rules and regulations I had to follow. Otherwise, somebody died. At the railroad, it’s almost the same way but it’s half the thickness, which is awesome, but we carry that with us daily every time we go out on the job. Those rules, we were always told, were written in blood, and they’re written in blood for a reason, because somebody got hurt or they didn’t follow the guidelines that were set forth.
With the city, they still have rules and regulations they have to follow. They’re in writing. We have access to those. I went over there today, asked for some information, signed a form. I was given that information. It’s 25 cents a copy. Anybody can go do it, but you actually have to walk into that office and request it. You have to request it and I’ve got a list of people that have requested forms over there, and they’ve given them to them.
Look at the big picture. I’m into giving second chances. I’m just kind of at a loss for words here. I think we need to take a look at the big picture and make the right decision.
Schmitt: As far as the forms go, I have a handful of forms listing requests for information and another handful of denials and a lot of them were part of trying to write grants. So yes, you can get information, but they will also tell you no.
Anderson: Here’s the list of mayor candidates that will be back on table of who actually went in there and asked for forms and who’s been in that office. Not everybody up here has been in that office.
Greenwood: I refuse to step foot in that office. So I’m going to leave it alone.