In the run up to the Tuesday, Aug. 2 primary election, the two Platte County second district Republican commission candidates faced off in a sparsely-attended debate last week.
Linda Smith moderated the Thursday, July 14 event held at the Platte County Community Center North in Platte City. She serves as co-president of the League of Women Voters of Kansas City.
Candidates John Elliott and Jason Buckley answered pre-selected questions — the same that were posed to first district candidates Beverlee Roper and Dagmar Wood at a similar debate held last month in Parkville, Mo. Written questions from the approximately 25 attendees were also accepted.
While both Elliott and Buckley are technical political newcomers in their first run for public office, Elliott has been active in the Republican party for many years. Buckley served in the Navy and said he has long been interested in politics.
“I am a staunch conservative and will fight for lower taxes,” Buckley said in his introductory statement, adding that the current state of government prompted him to run for election.
The candidates agreed on most points, with only slightly varying opinions on how to best tackle hot button issues such as Shiloh Springs Golf Course and the county’s parks sales tax.
Both want to cut wasteful government spending and perceived unethical tactics.
“The sunset of the parks and recreation tax offers an opportunity to restructure taxes to reflect county priorities,” Elliott said, and later expanded his stance to say he didn’t believe special elections — such as a potential renewal of the county parks tax — should be held in August or April, when voter turnout is lowest.
The one-half cent parks, recreation and stormwater sales tax was first approved in 2000 and renewed in 2009 in an August special election. The tax will be up for renewal again in 2019.
Both candidates suggested a one-quarter cent tax would be sufficient to handle parks and recreation maintenance concerns with Elliott pointing out that the stormwater program, which has paid for drainage improvement projects throughout the county, is a worthwhile program deserving of continued funding.
Candidates were asked several questions relating to parks and the parks tax, including whether or not Platte County had enough parks.
Elliott said the county currently had enough parks, and the focus needed to shift to maintaining existing facilities, although a few small projects could be finished up.
“More parks and more facilities grow government,” Elliott said, stating such growth ran counter to his belief in small government.
Buckley said the county may already have too many parks and recreation facilities, but that he would listen to the will of the voters and their opinions on such amenities.
This opinion didn’t extend to the golf course, however. Buckley said he would seek to sell Shiloh Springs to a private owner.
“The county should have never gotten into the golf course business,” Elliott said. “I don’t want to see it closed, but I want to see it off the county’s books.”
Elliott suggested the possibility of a sale to the current membership.
Currently, KemperSports Management operates the golf course’s operations for the county, part of a contract signed last summer. The county operated facility operates as an enterprise fund in the budget and continues to post an annual deficit.
Several tax-related questions were posed, including the possible institution of a law enforcement sales tax and a reduction of the three-eights cent roads sales tax.
Elliott said he wanted to examine all county taxes, including tourist taxes and the county’s six-cent property tax.
“We are a conservative county, but looking into it from the outside it wouldn’t seem like it,” Buckley said, of the county’s several special taxes and taxing districts. He also expressed a desire to enter talks with the city of Kansas City regarding the Zona Rosa sales tax, possibly to seek a reduction.
A variety of subjects were touched upon, with candidates in general agreement on most points.
Neither support the Mid-Continent Public Library’s proposed eight-cent tax levy increase to update facilities, which will appear on the ballot this November. Both support increased transparency and the importance of open communication in government, although Elliott said the public can already participate if they are so inclined.
“The avenues are available. They’re there,” Elliott said. “You just have to make people care.”
Both candidates viewed the $48,000 fraudulent wire transfer initiated by treasurer Rob Willard as a regrettable situation with Elliott noting the current commissioners are pursuing what paths they could to recover the funds. While Willard is an elected official and thus outside the commission’s ability to supervise, Elliott did have criticism of an employee who is.
“I don’t believe a person who has multiple DWIs should be employed by the county,” Elliott said, referring to director of human resources Mary Robinson, who was convicted of driving while intoxicated in 2014 and is serving two years of probation.
After Robinson’s arrest in June 2014 at a Platte City sobriety checkpoint, an investigation determined she had a history of DWI convictions in New York. According to a statement of probable cause, Robinson has a history of DWI dating back to 1988. In February 1988, she was convicted of her first offense in Dover Plains, N.Y. In 1999, she was convicted of the same in Colony Town, N.Y. In 2001, she was again convicted of DWI in East Greenbush, N.Y.
Robinson is the wife of Platte County auditor Kevin Robinson. Because of this, the case was referred to the Cass County Prosecutor’s Office for prosecution, and the case was assigned to Rex Gabbert, a Western District Court of Appeals judge.