While I lived in Michigan, I served in both appointed and elected offices, and since then have closely followed local politics. Awhile back, I wrote a column or two about my concerns over county issues and ended the last one with “Anybody but Jason Brown.” Presiding Commissioner Brown has decided not to seek another term. Subsequently, I have been asked from time to time about my thoughts on the current Platte County Presiding Commissioner race. The Presiding Commissioner and the two other Commissioners oversee a very large budget, many employees and a milieu of very important issues. There are several department heads that provide day-to-day management, but the Presiding Commissioner must understand the functions and priorities and rules and regulations that govern them. Therefore, I first look for experience in county government. I also look for experience running a large, successful business, to include oversight of a complex budget. Of course, county budgets are funded from taxes on its citizens, so a record of responsible spending is required. Yet that is not the same as “No New Taxes,” as appears on the signs of one candidate. Another candidate states on his website that his priorities include “realign sales taxes” and “eliminate subsidies,” and each of these candidates appear to despise the debt created by voter-approved sales tax increases to fund community centers and trails. In my opinion, we don’t need more of the kind of thinking that does not respect decisions made by a majority of the voters. One candidate’s campaign material questions raising taxes to pay for a new jail. Of course, housing inmates is a core function of counties and is also required by law. An anti-tax agenda may be appealing to many voters but in my opinion is an irresponsible approach to running a county government. Sometimes taxes have to be increased to meet growing needs, such as for the federally mandated new radio system for emergency responders, or for what is quickly emerging, the need for more space to house a growing inmate population. Good roads and an expanded park system are priorities for many citizens and need to be adequately funded. When dedicated sales taxes are voted in, the Commissioners need to yield to the will of the voters and leave that money alone. A Presiding Commissioner needs to be willing to make tough decisions, even if it means more taxes, as an investment in the future. Too many times in the past, I have seen tough decisions not made in a timely fashion, forcing subsequent elected officials to respond to a crisis. The last time a new jail was built, we were under court order to do so because commissioners ignored this core function too long. I also look for a Presiding Commissioner who is willing to compromise with the other two Commissioners. Seldom if ever does one person or political subgroup have all the answers that are best for the County. A democratic form of government demands the best ideas of all the Commissioners and an honest attempt to reach consensus on what best serves the citizenry. It goes without saying that decisions must always be lawful. Far too many decisions at the state and federal levels are later found to be unconstitutional. If consensus is reached, this outcome is less likely than if like-minded individuals push an idea through over the objections of another. I have in the past occasionally questioned the legality of some decisions made by Commissioners. Fortunately, they were subsequently reversed when stronger voices than mine were heard. I look for a Presiding Commissioner who does not have as a primary agenda undoing past decisions, merely because new commissioners are now in power. I look for candidates whose allegiance is to all the citizens, not primarily to lobbyists or power blocks. I look for a Presiding Commissioner whose emphasis is moving the county forward, rather than blocking progress or to moving the county backward. I also look for candidates not running for the wrong reasons. For example, I don’t believe wanting a job that is closer to home or simply wanting a higher paying job are the right reasons. I look for a person with an honest desire to serve the citizens of Platte County. Perhaps the best indication of that is relevant past community service in Platte County. Presiding Commissioners should not seek office for personal gain of any sort. Finally, I look for a commissioner who is accessible, and who listens respectfully to citizens, not just the vocal minorities or power blocks, and considers all points of view when making decisions. One previous commissioner told me, “If I do that, I will lose the next election.” That obviously should not be a factor in deciding what is best for the County. A few years back, I was in the office of a Congressman talking about health care reform. I did not feel listened to, understood or respected. Commissioners always need to listen and respect opinions different from their own and then do the right thing for the right reason, that being the best interest of Platte County. When considering all these factors and applying them to the current race for Platte County Presiding Commissioner, for me there is one clear choice, former Second District Commissioner Jim Plunkett. I view one of the other candidates as lacking in any relevant experience and as being a very long shot to win. I view the other candidate as lacking in knowledge of county government. I believe Platte County does not need a Presiding Commissioner at all like the one he will replace, and I fear one of the other candidates will resemble Mr. Brown’s record and style. I believe Mr. Plunkett’s experience, motives, integrity, voting record, respect for voters and his community service record far exceed either of his opponents. Whatever your personal choice, I encourage you to look for relevant experience in Platte County government, a record of responsible spending while being willing to invest in the future when necessary, a willingness to work for consensus whenever possible and a willingness to always do what is best for Platte County’s short and long term future. As always, this promises to be an interesting race.
Don Breckon is a Platte County resident, former president of Park University and an occasional Citizen columnist. He is retired and lives in southern Platte County and remains active in civic affairs. Breckon may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.