Back in 2011, Wyandotte County commissioners Mark Holland and Ann Murguia split on a key vote.
By STEVE KRASKE
The Kansas City Star
Murguia voted no. Holland voted yes.
Holland’s side prevailed, and the property tax rate climbed nearly 9 percent.
It turns out that was a rare disagreement for the two candidates for mayor/CEO of the Unified Government.
The two have matched votes hundreds of times since they joined the commission in 2007. Whether the issue was casinos, fee increases, a hotel tax hike, smoking bans or a boost in revenue from the Board of Public Utilities, Murguia and Holland were of one voice.
“On 90 percent of the issues, we’ve been in agreement,” Holland said.
One of those issues was approval in 2010 of the Cerner office complex in western Wyandotte County, involving state and local subsidies totaling $230 million to lasso a promise of 4,000 new jobs.
That decision, which had the support of Murguia, Holland and every other commissioner, had widespread consequences given that it delayed by several years a potential windfall from the repayment of bonds originally used to construct Village West.
All the agreement between Holland and Murguia leaves slim pickings for voters who must make a decision between the two just three weeks from now in the April 2 election.
Murguia, who finished second in last month’s primary with 23 percent to Holland’s 47 percent, is making an issue of the 2011 property tax vote that passed 6-4.
“I am currently the only elected official running for mayor that has never voted for a property tax increase in Wyandotte County,” she said at a primary candidate forum in February. “That should say a lot about the politician that I am.”
But Holland countered that the boost in the property tax rate didn’t result in citizens paying more. The value of their homes had declined so much during the recession that their taxes stayed relatively flat. And, he said, the decision came down to a simple choice of raising the rate or “laying off public safety.” He said that would have meant the loss of dozens of police officers and firefighters.
“She voted against keeping those jobs on the streets,” Holland said. “I refuse to vote against police and fire.”
“That’s not true at all,” she said. “In fact, I was endorsed by our local fire union. … My decision to vote against property taxes was simply that — to vote against a property tax increase.
“What concerns me about Mark’s vision for our city is exactly what he said. In his mind, the only choices were to take public safety off the street or raise our taxes. There are a lot of other options.”
Murguia was the lone dissenting vote on the budget the previous year, citing the impact a 4.5 percent bump in the property tax rate would have on recession-racked residents. That budget also included deep cuts to other programs and money to fill 70 vacant public safety positions.
Murguia that year lobbied for cuts to programs not required by state or federal law. Those discretionary programs included mental health, the county museum, drug and alcohol programs, and more. She praised the programs but said, “We don’t have the money.”
Another high-profile issue that split the two was the Unified Government’s new ethics policy, adopted in 2009.
The ethics policy sprang from a controversy involving Murguia’s dual roles as a county commissioner and as the paid executive director of the Argentine Neighborhood Development Association.
Holland had charged that it was improper for Murguia to vote on county budgets when money from those budgets wound up in the association’s coffers.
“You cannot be on both the giving and receiving end of public money,” Holland has said.
Murguia countered that she had cleared her involvement with ethics officials who had opined that no conflict existed.
“I went the extra mile,” Murguia said.
Nonetheless, the commission — on a 6-4 vote — backed a new policy that barred Murguia from voting on budgets benefiting her organization.
On smoking, Murguia and Holland generally were in lockstep. The two supported the county’s new smoking ban adopted in December 2008 and voted together as the only two dissenters on an amended policy that passed early the next year that dealt with how the ban would affect minors.
The two also voted against a blanket ban on all smoking in the county.
During his first term on the commission, Holland aggressively pushed an anti-smoking policy. He was one of four commissioners — Murguia was not one of them — who said in 2008 that he would support a smoking ban that included casinos.
“The whole country is moving in this direction,” he said at the time.
Holland insisted that he has worked well with Murguia during their six years together on the commission and even helped her attract a new grocery store to her district this year.
“We’ve worked fine together,” Holland said. “Like any commissioners, we’ve had disagreements. I’m looking forward to working together in the future with whomever’s on the commission.”
The loser of the mayoral election will remain on the panel. Both Holland and Murguia are halfway through their second terms.
In the campaign, Murguia has criticized Holland for his initial priorities when he ran for office. Holland campaigned on what he called the four P’s: pools, parks, playgrounds and paths for exercise. Even he now jokes that those didn’t turn out to be very high concerns on voter wish lists.
Since then, he has broadened his view of those needs from a sense of fun and games to what he calls “the value of parks and recreation as a healthy lifestyle.”
Murguia, though, said Holland’s choice of priorities showed that he’s out of touch with voters.
“It was just sort of shocking to me that with all of the basic services and the basic needs of our constituents and our tight budget, that that would be something that would be important,” she said.
“There’s not a huge gap in our voting record. But there is a big distinction with how we voted in regards to priorities and taxes when it comes to our budget.”
To reach Steve Kraske, call 816-234-4312 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at stevekraske.