In Olathe, City Council candidates are addressing a wide variety of issues.
Experienced politicians and several political newcomers are hoping to win the 1st Ward, 2nd Ward and at-large seats up for grabs during the April 7 general election.
In the 1st Ward , Ray Barmby, Larry Campbell and Jason Graff are facing off.
In the 2nd Ward , Bruce Droge and Jim Randall are pitted against each other.
Seeking the at-large seat are John Bacon, Adam Thomas and Steve Wright.
First Ward hopefuls Barmby, Campbell and Graff have very different views.
Barmby, a former Olathe mayor and councilman, hopes to regain a seat on the governing body so he can be a voice for the city’s rapidly growing senior population.
He’s concerned that the city’s franchise fee on natural gas and electricity is burdensome to the elderly. He does not believe city services would suffer if the fee was reduced from 5 percent to 4 percent.
Barmby also said that although fewer workers are being employed by the city, the general fund is climbing.
If elected, he said he would ask very pointed questions concerning the budget and the impact of new ordinances upon senior citizens.
“The most important work of the council is to craft a budget that is fair and makes the most sensible use of tax and fee revenues that are paid by us all,” Barmby said. “I don’t personally know of anyone who has to make that terrible choice between paying the gas bill, buying food or medication, but they live among us and I fear for their ability to stay Olathe residents.”
Incumbent Larry Campbell hopes to keep his seat because he enjoys public service and wants to build on the improvements made in Olathe since he first took office in 1991.
He wants to see the continuation of the city’s aggressive plans to significantly improve and ease traffic flow. He also wants to help the city continue to look for ways to implement a Rail Road Quiet Zone for south Olathe, enhance police and fire safety, and work on keeping Olathe a wonderful place to live, work and raise a family.
“I have a proven track record of not raising taxes,” Campbell said. “I am pro-family and enjoy working on quality of life issues such as keeping our city as safe as possible and providing a balance of parks, trails and citizens’ services. I am a candidate that unites, works to build consensus and is supportive of our partners, such as the Olathe Chamber, Olathe Medical Center, Kansas School of the Deaf, and our excellent public schools.”
Political newcomer Jason Graff also says he wants his shot to make a difference in the community.
He said his experience as an IT professional will be invaluable for the city, helping to attract cutting-edge companies that bring high-paying jobs. He would also like to see city arts programs be preserved and the city to improve communication about the scheduled times for street-sweeping throughout the city.
Graff believes the council deserves new ideas.
“The Kansas state government has begun dumping more fiscal responsibilities on local governments to save its own budget,” Graff said. “Many of the more conservative members currently on the council do not feel comfortable speaking out about these changes, in the interest of protecting their political careers. We need folks on the City Council who are willing and able to keep vigilant watch over the laws coming out of Topeka that affect Olathe and bring attention to issues that could hamper our city’s future.”
In the 2nd Ward, a passion for civic duty is fueling both candidates, Droge and Randall, to campaign.
Droge, a longtime businessman, says he hopes to be elected so he can bring fresh ideas onto the council and ensure his ward has a councilman who asks the right questions at the right time.
He wants to help make sure city leaders are efficient and transparent with the tax revenues they collect. Droge said Olathe is positioned to bring in record tax revenues, having recently passed two tax increases, and it has a growing economy and increasing property values. He thinks it will take responsible leadership to ensure the money is utilized efficiently.
Droge also hopes to encourage development, while making sure the cost of that development doesn’t fall on the backs of taxpayers.
“Local government is very important as every decision our City Council makes has a direct impact on our daily lives, from roads to public safety,” Droge said. “As our city grows like never before, I want to make sure both families and small businesses have a consistent voice on the council so they remain our first priority.”
His opponent, councilman Randall, says he is running because he wants to continue the progress Olathe has seen during his four terms on the council, he said.
Along with its citizens, Randall has helped and watched Olathe grow from a bedroom community into a vital city that is recognized nationally and regionally.
In addition, he said, citizens just gave the City Council a 98 percent approval rating in the 2014 Direction Finder Survey.
The 37-year Olathe resident’s experience, in addition to his years on the council, includes heading the community center task force, serving on the Olathe Planning Commission for two terms, and acting as mayor pro-tem for 10 years.
Although Randall feels the city is heading in the right direction, he agrees there are some issues that need to be addressed.
“Olathe and all cities will face increasing challenges to provide requested services with available funds,” he said. “If we can explore regional service delivery models for some services, while preserving citizen input and control, significant savings would accrue. In addition, as assets age it is imperative that we maintain them at acceptable levels.”
For the at-large seat, Bacon, Thomas, and Wright each promise to protect the rights of Olathe citizens.
Incumbent Bacon says he hopes to be re-elected so he can continue being a voice for the people.
He stresses that he will deliver a philosophy and leadership style that is fair, honest and conservative. He also said he wishes to serve as a bridge between the residents and City Hall and make decisions that protect the interests of both residents and businesses.
Some of the issues he hopes to tackle include providing quality job opportunities for residents, making enhancements to the city’s transportation system, and staying ahead of the city’s aging infrastructure.
He also wants to help keep Olathe in a financially stable position, by maintaining the city’s current mill rate, as it has been for the past 20 years.
“I am proud to say that Olathe has been my home for 34 years and have owned and operated a small business here since 1991,” he said. “It has been a wonderful place to work, play and raise a family, and I want to see that preserved and improved upon.”
Thomas, a 32-year-old father of four, says he is running because he wants to bring a new, fresh face to the local political scene and help move his generation forward, by encouraging them to become involved in their community.
He emphasizes that he is not a career politician, but instead a career voter.
His biggest issue with the city is the lack of community involvement. Thomas said he speaks to people all the time who don’t know their local elected officials and he sees that as a huge problem, especially when it comes time to holding those politicians accountable.
“I will keep the community informed and bring integrity, honesty and respect to the City Council while remaining humble,” he said. “I will make sure the good people of this town are informed and up to date with what the council is doing and how it will affect them.”
Wright, on the other hand, says he is running because he is unhappy with the city’s rise in sales taxes.
He said he is frustrated that when revenues are low, the city’s first and only solution is to raise taxes. He believes the council should be actively and aggressively seeking revenue generating venues to bring to the city, such as the Sea Life Kansas City Aquarium, for example.
He also thinks the city should help bring the Great Mall of the Great Plains back to life, because a vibrant mall would lessen the need to raise sales taxes.
“As a native Kansan and resident of Olathe, I will not sit back and collect a salary and give nothing back in return,” Wright said. “My promise to the people in our city, if city sales taxes are not reduced by 25 percent and the mill levy has a permanent freeze by the end of my term, then I will not seek re-election. I believe elected officials are hired by the citizens and if they are unable to do the work the citizens want them to do, then that official should not be collecting a salary.”
Education: Bachelor’s in business administration from UMKC
Occupation: Self-employed economic development consultant to rural Kansas communities and businesses.
Elected experience: Olathe mayor, 1987-89; council member at large from 1993-97.
Education: Master’s in business management from MidAmerica Nazarene University
Occupation: Community Bank President for Merit Bank-Olathe Branch. Adjunct business professor for Baker University and MNU
Elected experience: Olathe City Council, 1991-1994 and 2007 to present; Olathe mayor, 1995-2001; Kansas House, 1997-2005 and 2013-present
Education: Bachelor’s in education, University of Kansas
Occupation: Software engineer with Epiq Systems in Kansas City, Kan.
Elected experience: None
Education: Bachelor’s in engineering technology, Kansas State University; Executive Fellows MBA, Rockhurst University
Occupation: Realtor, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Kansas City Realty
Elected experience: None
Education: Bachelor’s in economics and organization effectiveness
Occupation: International business consultant
Elected experience: Olathe City Council, 1999 to present; Republican Precinct Committeeman
Education: Bachelor’s in accounting from MidAmerica Nazarene University
Occupation: Certified public accountant
Elected experience: Olathe City Council 1995-present; Kansas state Board of Education 1999-present
Education: Johnson County Community College; three years at Belmont University, Nashville, Tenn., studied music and business administration
Occupation: General manager at a local restaurant
Elected experience: None
Education: Bachelor’s in communication studies and history from Washburn University
Occupation: Supervisor in customer service for Farmers Insurance Group
Elected experience: Olathe precinct committeeman since 2004