Mayoral candidates meet in forum
Better communications and infrastructure were among the issues discussed at the first DeSoto mayoral candidate forum.
David Anderson, Mary Guntert and Duke Neeland shared the podium at a breakfast meeting of the DeSoto Rotary Club at the United Methodist Church last Thursday. A Feb. 27 primary will eliminate one of the candidates from the race.
All the candidates have experience in DeSoto government. Neeland has been on the city council the past four years and Guntert served on the city council in the past. Anderson is currently the chairman of the DeSoto Planning Commission.
Anderson opened the forum with a call for the city to improve its relationships with the school district, county government and rural water and fire districts.
At the same time, he said, city government needed to improve its communication with the community. He suggested the city council host work sessions or public forums on important topics.
Guntert suggested communication could be improved through citizen surveys.
"When we started doing surveys and had the Cub Scouts distribute them, we had an 85 percent return," she said. "I found surveys very helpful in identifying needs."
She also suggested the city reinstate a program that made spokesmen available for forums throughout the county.
"Years ago, we had the ambassador program," Guntert said. "It did a world of good."
Neeland said he has tried to conduct his own personal surveys on important issues.
"I've stood out in front of the post office and grocery store to see what the residents think about issues," he said. "I will continue to do that."
Neeland characterized himself as a hardworking councilman who has missed only two meetings during his term.
"On every issue I've worked on, I did what I thought was best for DeSoto, not individuals or groups," he said.
During his term, the city has established an excise tax used to improve streets, sidewalks and streetlights. It has added a full-time planner, engineer, and parks and recreation director. Each of those appointments have increased efficiency and saved the expense of hiring outside consultants, he said.
Neeland said the city needed to look at upgrading one other staff position.
"I think emergency preparedness needs attention," he said. "If we had a disaster - a tornado or hazardous waste spill on K-10, we would really be in bad shape."
While a move by the city council to detach the part of Johnson County Rural Fire District No. 2 was unsuccessful, Neeland said it forced the city and fire district to consider the unequal taxation of those DeSoto residents living in the rural district. He predicted the two departments would eventually be merged.
Guntert said other cooperative efforts would help the city address its infrastructure concerns. The city has recently joined a consortium of municipalities and rural water districts that is exploring the feasibility of forming a cooperative water district, she said. Johnson County Wastewater is expanding westward.
"If we can hold out a couple more years, I think help is on the way through cooperatives," she said. "A lot of people don't want to give up control of our water or control of our sewers. By wanting so much control, we have lost control."
Anderson said the city had to make a basic decision with its water and sewer utilities.
"We have to decide if we want to be in the water and sewer business," he said. "And if do get in the business of water, you might have to raise rates to take care of it."
Neeland was on a city council that has endorsed Oz Entertainment Co.'s $861 million redevelopment plan for the Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant. Although neither of his opponents expressed opposition to the plan that would build a $861 million Wonderful World of Oz Theme Park at the closed plant, they withheld support.
"I'm not sure I support Oz (Entertainment Co.)," Anderson said. "The important question is really the 9,000 acres of Johnson County in our backyard."
In the hands of a "good developer," Sunflower would play as important a role in DeSoto's future as it played in its past. It is therefore important the city have a voice in the transfer process and future planning at the closed plant, he said.
"We don't have enough relationships with he county and state to be closely involved in that future," he said.
Guntert agreed, saying Sunflower could do for DeSoto what the Johnson County Industrial Airport has done for Gardner. But she, too, refused to endorse Oz.
"I don't want to take a stand on Oz," she said. "What I think we can do is support them with information."
Sunflower development should make DeSoto more livable, Guntert said.