fielded questions about funding priorities, budget cuts and rising gas prices at the annual candidate forum hosted by the Mayor’s Youth Advisory Council (MYAC) on Tuesday evening.
Twelve candidates are vying for six open seats on the .
The MYAC is composed of juniors and seniors from local public and private high schools, chosen by their school officials to learn more about local government.
Secretary and Acting President Edbert Cheng said he and MYAC member Sam Korns drafted 15 questions for the forum after attending a Planning and Zoning Commission meeting.
“We tried to tie-in relevant information,” Cheng said, adding that for many O’Fallon residents, the forum was their first chance to meet the people interested in running the city.
At the forum each candidate gave a three-minute opening statement. After that MYAC members questioned candidates by ward allowing a two-minute response time.
Encouraging Growth and Development in Northern O’Fallon
Ward One candidates Bill Gardener and A.C. Dienoff responded to questions about aiding commercial development in the mainly residential northern end of O’Fallon.
Gardner said the area is the hub where O’Fallon was first established, but this is often forgotten as the city continues to expand and grow on the southern end.
“We have to get people excited and promote the North Side,” he said.
Dienoff said if elected, he would work with the St. Charles County Municipal League and O'Fallon city staff to bring a grocery store and more restaurants to the northern part of town to generate more jobs and revenue.
Using Federal, State Grant Money for Projects
MYAC member Sam Korns asked the candidates for Ward One what areas they saw as priorities for additional federal or state funds.
Dienoff said one of his main priorities is public safety and he would like to see seven additional police officers hired in 2011-12. He added another top priority repairing roads and street lights in a timely fashion.
Gardner said he would like to see extra funding for the development of Highway M, with the addition of a north and south connector from Highway 79. He said grants for these projects would make the area attractive and affordable to companies thinking of moving in.
The Effect of State Budget Cuts on the City Budget
MYAC members asked Ward Two candidates how they foresee state budget cuts affecting the city.
“We will definitely hurt as a city as far as funding from the state, we already know that," Candidate Rose Mack said, adding that the city council must be aware of its budget and ensure it has the money to complete planned projects.
“At the present time we are looking at our efficiencies in the city and making sure our departments are working at full strength but are also being efficient with our money,” Mack said.
Candidate Stephen McFarland said he is looking forward to getting into the “inner workings” of the city budget.
He said he plans to bring his experience as a business owner to the council and look at the city budget as a business owner would to decide where the city is not being efficient and can reduce spending.
Addressing Key Issues in Ward Three
Ward 3 candidates Mike Nunnery, Dave Evans and Richard Battelle shared their views on the main issues for their constituents.
“The thing my campaign has stressed, is listening to the residents. Finding out exactly what it is they want,” Nunnery said. “So far I’ve run into a lot of conversation about street rehabbing and bringing the infrastructure back to where it was. “
He added Ward Three has also experienced storm water drainage problems, which he intends to address with the mayor’s office.
Evans agreed with Nunnery and said one of the biggest concerns residents of Ward Three express is infrastructure—particularly the streets.
“With my background in construction and particularly road construction, I’m passionate about preventative maintenance,” he said. “I think we can save the city a lot of money by staying up on preventative maintenance of infrastructure. “
Evans added that if elected, better communication would be a goal. He said he would like to hold regular town hall meetings with residents.
Battelle’s concerns involved the numerous vacancies in the city’s commercial strip centers, particularly in Winghaven.
“That’s a huge concern because that’s our tax base,” he said “If we can’t fill those spaces, we’re going to be in trouble come budget time.”
Battelle said he would encourage residents to shop in O’Fallon and echoed Evans's thoughts on the need for town hall meetings to increase communication with Ward Three residents.
City Budget and Rising Gas Prices
The Ward Three candidates also addressed a question about how the city can cope with rising gas prices. Evans replied that the current budget is formulated on estimates of gas prices expected to rise near $4 or $5 a gallon this summer.
“For maintenance and infrastructure, fuel cost will be a huge part of that and I think this council has to be aware of the fact and we dare not underestimate how much fuel costs will be for maintenance and police,” he said.
Battelle said the council should work with department heads to ensure efficient use.
Nunnery said some of the city’s current street department vehicles have well over 100,000 miles on them and it is up to the city to make sure the vehicles are properly maintained.
“If you can get these units in good working order, you won’t be using as much fuel and also, if you get more fuel efficient vehicles,” he said. “The role of city council is not to intervene with department heads, the role of city council is to plan the budget and so forth,” he said.
Is a Skate Park a Good Use of City Funds?
MYAC members asked Ward Three candidates if they thought the city’s plan to build a skate park in was worth the money. The project is in the design phase and is included in the city's five-year Capital Improvement Plan as a project for 2012 at an estimated cost of $300,000.
Battelle said if the city has the funds for such projects, it should make decisions with complete transparency and put the issue before O’Fallon residents for a vote.
Nunnery said the skate park is a benefit to the youth in the community and he’d like to see the city take advantage of state funds to build more facilities of this kind.
“We need to make this city what it once was. We were a leader,” he said. “We did become ”
Evans said while randomly building a park not a good idea, in this case it is a wise use of money.
“I think we build what it is that the citizens of the city desire,” he said, adding that projects like the skate park include examining a business plan, the need in the community and the anticipated utilization.
Unopposed candidates John Haman Jr. (Ward Three), Bob Howell (Ward Four) and Mike Pheney (Ward Five), also answered questions from the council at Tuesday’s forum.
Haman responded to a question about making himself more accessible to constituents. He said as Ward Three continues to grow and he is always open to resident input.
Howell addressed the economic ressession and the closing of O’Fallon businesses, including Old Navy, Crispy Cream and and Cold Stone.
“We have lost some businesses recently and believe me, it hurts everyone of us,” he said.
Howell said to keep businesses thriving in the community, city council members attend ribbon cuttings and visit business owners to ask what they can do to help.
MYAC members asked Pheney his views on traffic laws and fatalities on O’Fallon roads such as Highway P. Pheney said because it is a state-governed road, the city must work with residents and the Missouri Department of Transportation to push for improvements.
Closing Statements Get Serious
During his closing statement, Dienoff said his opponent Bill Gardner accepted unethical contributions from developers with current pending city contracts. Dienoff also alleged the developers are asking for exemptions from safety components mandated by city code and ordinances.
Candidates Michael Nunnery, John Haman Jr. and Bob Howell began their closing statements by apologizing to the forum for the comments made about Gardner.
“When we attack others in a forum such as this—it doesn’t do anything but bring the rest of us down,” Nunnery said. “I think for the most part I respect and admire each one of the candidates that have represented themselves as gentleman and lady in this campaign.”
Haman said he was disappointed by the “anger and accusations thrown around wildly.”
“For everybody sitting up here running for office, for one person, who I’ve been in contact with and offered advice, to sit up here to throw accusations and slander around—really disturbs me, and for the residents at home and for the youth advisory council who put this together, I apologize,” he said.
You can read more about your on O'Fallon Patch every Tuesday in March. Next week, we feature Ward Three candidates.
More on the Candidates and Open Seats
The terms of Bill Gardner, Rose Mack, Bob Howell and Mike Pheney end in April, leaving one seat open in the first, second, fourth and fifth wards.
Ward Three has one two-year position and one three-year seat open. The two-year seat opened when Dan Haney resigned in October. The three-year seat becomes available when John Haman Jr.’s term ends in April.
Candidates in filing order:
- Challenger A.C. Dienoff faces incumbent Bill Gardner in Ward One.
- In Ward Two, incumbent Rose Mack is running against challenger Steven McFarland.
- Candidates Ken Wood, Noal C. Roos, Mike Nunnery, Dave Evans and Richard Battelle are all vying for the two-year term in Ward Three.
- Incumbent John J. Haman, Jr. is running unopposed for the three-year term in Ward Three.
- Bob Howell in Ward Four and Mike Pheney in Ward Five are both running unopposed.
Ward 3 candidates Wood and Roos were not at Tuesday’s forum.