CLAY COUNTY — On the Aug. 4 ballot, voters in the Republican primary will choose one of three candidates to face lone Democrat candidate Dustin Bell in the November general election for the office of eastern Clay County commissioner. Republicans on the primary ballot are: Doug Ervin, Megan Thompson and Dan Troutz.
To help voters educate themselves on where candidates stand on issues, questionnaires were sent to each candidate by the Courier-Tribune. Candidates were asked for biographical details as well as given 50 words each to answer questions on issues including opportunity for public input, possible changes in the structure of county government, transparency and current construction projects. For fairness to all, answers longer than 50 words were cut off at the end of the nearest sentence and are denoted with an ellipsis.
Answers are printed in alphabetical order of last name for the Republican candidates and are followed by Bell’s responses. Bell faces no opposition on his party’s primary ballot. Troutz did not respond to requests for comment.
What is the biggest issue facing the county and your district and how will you work to resolve them?
Ervin: “Lack of ethics and trust. How we conduct the business of the county, support law enforcement and create sound economic development policies are crucial to our future. I will not engage in bickering, frivolous lawsuits and wasteful spending. I will adhere to open records laws and end obstruction to citizen involvement.”
Thompson: “We have corrupt commissioners who are using taxpayer money to enrich themselves and their friends. They have voted themselves giant pay raises and are engaged in underhanded land deals. I am running to stop government misconduct like this and restore our values.”
Bell: “One of the biggest issues that we face in the county is money mismanagement, the wrong funds going to the wrong place. A good resolution would be an audit of the county to find out where the money is going.”
What do you feel the role of commissioner is in relation to the public and to county staff?
Ervin: “A county commissioner is elected by the people to serve the people. They are entrusted with creating a county budget, managing tax levies and debt and overseeing the operations of county government under their statutory authority. The county could not function without a dedicated county staff and their voices are important to improving county services.”
Thompson: “The role of a commissioner is to serve our community with the assistance of county staff. I believe commissioners should work with staff, other elected officials, community leaders and members of the public to provide high quality services to our citizens.”
Bell: “The role of commissioner is to do what is best for the people and try to make the county’s government run as smoothly as possible.”
Do you support the state audit of the county? Why or why not?
Ervin: “Absolutely. The state audit must be completed. I pledge a complete, thorough review by the commission, to have public testimony on the findings, create a detailed plan to address deficiencies and will turn over any findings of questionable conduct to the appropriate authorities for prosecution. We must hold elected officials accountable for their actions.”
Thompson: “I signed the petition to bring the citizen-mandated audit to Clay County and strongly support it. As a conservative, I welcomed independent oversight of my office and was humbled to receive the second highest possible rating from the audit team. Good public servants should have nothing to hide.”
Bell: “Yes. Something has clearly gone wrong with our budget and to find the problem, you have to find the source. Otherwise, the problem will persist.”
Does the commission provide adequate opportunities for public input? If not, what will you improve if elected?
Ervin: “No. I will open up Clay County government back to the people (by proposing) varying commission meeting schedules to allow for more citizen input, allowing public comment on budget and each ordinance, updated technology for live-streaming of meetings, conducting regular town hall meetings across the district and make my phone number available to everyone.”
Thompson: “No. As the next eastern commissioner, I will restore public comment periods and increase the number of commission meetings held each month. I will also end the commission’s current practice of overusing secret, executive meetings that are not open to the public.”
Bell: “I feel it does, (but) the problem (is) some individuals are unwilling to listen to what the public has to say.”
Do you think the form or structure of Clay County government should be changed? If so, how would you like to see it changed?
Ervin: “We are the fifth largest county in the state. We have outgrown our current form of government. The charter commission should consider a five-member commission to preserve representation of our smaller communities and rural areas and consider replacing some elected offices with professional positions. We deserve better than what we have now.”
Thompson: “I support any change backed by voters to increase transparency, fight corruption and eliminate wasteful spending. The most important change will come by replacing corrupt commissioners with true public servants.”
Bell: “If this question is referring to the charter government, I don’t think it should be changed.”
Are you in favor of the county’s certificates of participation bond projects that include building a new Annex and nature center at Smithville Lake? Why or why not?
Ervin: “No. The voices of the people were completely ignored on the Annex. The entire process has been clouded with impropriety and the public steam rolled. No new project that incurs new debt should move forward without public comment and a vote of the people.”
Thompson: “Putting Clay County in debt for the next 20 years by borrowing $52 million without a public vote and in the face of an economic downturn is reckless. As a conservative, I believe government should live within its means and not spend money it does not have.”
Bell: “The Annex, no. The current county assessor’s office (with a location in the Annex) works perfectly fine; it just needs updated and that would cost a fraction of the price of a new one. As for the nature center, it’s a public space. I’d be more than willing to hear input from the public whether they want a new center, a rework of the current one or keep it as is.”