CLAY COUNTY — On the Republican primary ballot, voters this August will choose between four candidates for western commissioner of Clay County. The top vote-getter will advance to the general election in November and face the winner of the Democratic primary.
To help voters educate themselves on where Republicans Josiah Bechtold, Barry McCullough, Lydia McEvoy and Rodney Phillips stand on issues, questionnaires were sent to each. They were asked for biographical details as well as given 50 words each to answer questions on issues facing the county. 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 candidate last name.
What is the biggest issue facing the county and your district and how will you work to resolve them?
Bechtold: “Fighting corruption and ensuring that government functions cleanly is the most important. Idle industries across Missouri have thrown workers into low wages, human misery and personal indignity. Those who pay taxes are denied a fair return for their labor, their success penalized and full productivity hindered. Local businesses have been stripped from this community and its infrastructure has collapsed while taxes keep getting raised and government spends on frivolous things like $600 coffee makers. …”
McCullough: “The current commission has committed to operating in bad faith, behind closed doors and with insider deals. We must communicate openly, properly fund our supporting departments and comply with the audit demanded by our citizen initiative.”
McEvoy: “Day one, we need to restore the voice and participation of citizens in public meetings and decision making. I will be a full-time commissioner with an open door and open records. Many areas need more public participation, but the budget process will get the first and most transparency.”
Phillips: “In today’s climate, the safety and security of the public is concerning. I will never vote to reduce or defund the sheriff’s approved budget. The irresponsible handling of taxpayer’s money is another issue. I will be open and honest with every expenditure. Back room and questionable dealings will not be tolerated.”
What do you feel the role of commissioner is in relation to the public and to county staff?
Bechtold: “The role of the Clay County Commission is to provide a quality control on the actions and spending of the county offices.”
McCullough: “Commissioners are responsible for ongoing, two-way communication with the public and accurately representing the public interest. Commissioners must properly hire, place, compensate and retain qualified staff that will effectively and ethically work together on behalf of the citizens.”
McEvoy: “Elected officials are primarily servants of the public that elected them. If staff is needed to carry out duties, those staff (members) must answer to elected officials because they ultimately answer to the public. Salaries for county staff, paid with tax dollars, should not exceed industry standards.”
Phillips: “To be a responsible steward of the public’s tax dollars and to be a voice of, and a true representative to, the people of Clay County.”
Do you support the state audit of the county?
Bechtold: “Yes, I do support the audit. Recent scandals concerning the current occupant of the office, Gene Owen, who I am running to replace, show that an audit is needed.”
McCullough: “Yes, I support the audit. I signed and collected signatures to demand the audit. Transparency with our transactions and accountability with public funds needs to meet citizens’ expectations of the duties of elected officials.”
McEvoy: “Absolutely. Every business, and especially government, should be subject to regular feedback and scrutiny. The public deserves an objective standard to use when evaluating the performance of offices that do the work of government.”
Phillips: “Yes, I fully support the audit. It’s the taxpayer’s money and the taxpayers have the right to know exactly how their money is being spent. Any wrongdoing that may be uncovered during the audit should result in the prosecution of those involved, no exceptions.”
Does the commission provide adequate opportunities for public input? If not, what will you improve if elected?
Bechtold: “At the current time, no. The county commission has met several times this year with no advance notice to the public. These secret meetings of the commission will stop if I am elected.”
McCullough: “No, morning meetings with no structured public comments do not meet the needs of the public. I will advocate for meetings to be held after 5 p.m. with live-streaming of the meetings and reinstate public comments in the agenda.”
McEvoy: “No, they do not do all they can to encourage citizen participation. I would have more frequent meetings including informal listening and discussion sessions. I would record and broadcast meetings, publish all minutes quickly, and I would restore public comment times in all public meetings.”
Phillips: “No, it doesn’t. I believe there should be an open forum at the end of each commission meeting for the public to give input on issues that are important to them. I will have town hall meetings every month without agendas for the purpose of giving the public a voice.”
Do you think the form or structure of Clay County government should be changed? If so, how would you like to see if changed?
Bechtold: “I would support increasing the county commission to five members. I support putting this to a public vote.”
McCullough: “We have many years of dysfunction within our commission. The voters demanded that we explore the possibility of changing our structure. If it is the will of the voters, we should consider electing a five-member commission and the ability to recall commissioners.”
McEvoy: “While an overhaul of our government may be in order, good government comes from good people that put taxpayers first. Clay residents are more engaged than ever before. Charter government can’t fix the election of unethical officials. Let’s elect good people in 2020, regardless of what form our government takes.”
Phillips: “The current form of Clay County’s government is effective if you have the right people in office. I would like to see the commission eventually increased to five commissioners. Adding a north and a south commissioner would make it more difficult to always have the same voting bloc.”
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?
Bechtold: “I do not support these new spending measures. There is a looming recession due to the COVID-19 pandemic and there will be a decline in the tax base. The county cannot afford it.”
McCullough: “No, the COP bonds represent 50% of Clay County’s annual budget, which is a considerable financial burden that may impact funding for county operations or force tax increases. The current Annex is better positioned to represent the needs of the citizens in the southern and western portion of the county and can be enhanced for a fraction of the expense of a new Annex building. ...”
McEvoy: “Government should reserve tax dollars for its most essential functions. While some of the priorities in the spending plan have legitimacy, the people that pay taxes should have the right to direct priorities when their dollars are spent. Optional projects should not be publicly funded without a vote.”
Phillips: “Not at this time. The current Annex can be rehabbed for less than half the cost of a new Annex. The county, due to COVID-19, will have some budget issues in the very near future, so we have to be very careful where our funds are being committed.”