No matter who wins on Nov. 4, the Clay County Commission will have new leadership next year.
The incumbent presiding commissioner, Pam Mason, was defeated in the August primary by former state Rep. Jerry Nolte.
Nolte, a Republican, now faces Democrat Jay Swearingen, a current state lawmaker.
The winner will lead a county commission that has had its share of drama in recent years: lawsuits, disputes between Mason and the county auditor, and more recently an unexpected tax cut approved by two of the three commissioners.
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Both candidates count their stints in the Missouri House as assets, and both criticize county government as being unprofessional, prone to interdepartmental squabbling and hurt by officials who have promoted their personal projects over the common good.
When running against Mason in the primary, Nolte put governmental transparency at the forefront of his campaign, and it’s still part of his platform.
“I support efforts to establish a transparency portal similar to what is in place in other jurisdictions in Missouri,” he said, referring to online information that shows how government money is spent.
Swearingen said county employees’ morale and their trust in county officials need to be rebuilt.
“The commission’s complete lack of professionalism, the bickering and the inability to build consensus is hindering economic progress and job creation,” he said.
One of Swearingen’s specific goals is locating wasteful spending in light of the $700,000 tax cut enacted by the current commission.
“I would like to see us plan for the growth that is coming our way, rather than have that growth handed to us,” he said.
Swearingen also wants to focus on creating more sustaining alliances with other local governments. He said the county might be able to help Kearney fund facilities it needs to attract regional swim meets, or to team up with Platte County or Kansas City to fund a no-kill animal shelter to help ease the burden on municipal animal-control budgets.
Nolte cited his experience on the Clay County Economic Development Council’s Strategic Planning Committee when listing ways to manage and encourage growth in the county.
He said he has worked on ideas like bringing a research facility to the area, nurturing the workforce through programs such as Centers for Advanced Professional Studies and creating an angel investment program to encourage entrepreneurism.
“We must properly manage our economic growth to encourage job creation. Without good-paying jobs that you can raise a family on, we can never reach our full potential,” he said.
He also wants to focus more attention on infrastructure and increasing assets like available office space.
DEMOCRATJay P. Swearingen
Address: 619 N.W. 42nd Terrace, Kansas City
Occupation: Former vice president of the Missouri Credit Union Association
Education: Master’s degree in public administration, University of North Texas; bachelor's degree in journalism, Texas State University
Previous public experience: Missouri House, 2010-present
Address: 1304 N.E. Shady Lane Drive, Gladstone
Occupation: Business owner, advertising illustrator
Education: Associate's degree, Maple Woods Community College
Previous public experience: Missouri House, 2004-12; Clay County Republican Central Committee, Clay County Economic Development Council’s Strategic Planning Committee