McMinnville Alderman candidates speak out at the political forum held at WCHS Monday night
Rachel Kirby has been practicing law for 20 years in juvenile court and has been an alderman for the past two years after being appointed mid-term.
“I’ve learned a lot in two years and a lot has happened in two years, starting literally with the Civic Center remodel which will be completed and ready to open in November. Downtown is growing, City Hall has been remodeled and the Police Department will be happily moving into there soon, as soon as the renovations are complete," said Kirby. "They are very satisfied with this move. There is new construction on both ends of downtown from the new pharmacy to the five storefronts that will go into the Fraley’s building, and the new Black History Museum will be opening soon. Our finances are strong and we have a great cash balance with no tax increase. And even with this awful COVID, which has hurt so many people and so many economies, our revenues have remained strong.
Kirby says she wants to continue with projects that make McMinnville a great place to live.
"I am for progress and I am for reinvesting back into the community for the benefit of its citizens such as all the projects that have been initiated and accomplished by the sitting board. The Civic Center remodel, expanding downtown, dog park, tennis court, all the grants that are under way, new bike lanes and the mapping of the blueways, and the new kayak launch at Pepper Branch. As of June 30, we have a fund cash balance of $4.6 million and we are projected to be close to that at the close of the fiscal year and that’s everything paid for.
“Hopefully as we move past COVID we can tackle more projects with the addition of an indoor pool and more recycling. I will continue to reinvest in our community to make it cleaner and greener and more efficient for an overall better quality of life for our residents who not only pay taxes here, but who work and play here as well. As far as the indoor pool goes, I think it goes without saying. I think the citizens have been clamoring for a pool for a long time."
Keri Morton has been a small business owner for almost 20 years and she says that experience has taught her how to work within a budget.
“Within our city we have some infrastructure issues," said Morton. "My business has been affected by storm water. In search for answers, I started attending aldermen meetings. I have been attending these meetings for three years trying to learn what I could do to try to find solutions to this problem."
"Storm water drainage has become a problem lately with the amount of rainfall we get in a short amount of time. I am sure many of you have seen our city streets flooded and may know of other businesses or homeowners affected by this. We also have sewer lines in great need of repair. I’ve heard in meetings where this has caused property owners hours of cleanup and costly repairs. Properly functioning infrastructure is needed for growth. Development, either housing or commercial, must have these necessities."
Morton said as a business owner she understands you must put needs before wants. She said she's seen crucial city departments underfunded. Morton also pledged to have better communication with residents of McMinnville if elected.
“The city belongs to the people and I want residents to feel more a part of it. A community is only as good as the leadership that guides it."
She continued, "In my business experience, I do research before jumping into anything. That’s what I’ve done. I’ve been going to the meetings. I’ve put in my time to try and familiarize myself with what’s going on in city government. Learning everything that happens in those meetings and the responsibility that’s put on the board, it’s huge. They deal with a lot of money. They deal with a lot of people. My main concern is our infrastructure in our town. I don’t like seeing the streets flooded, the sewer lines being messed up. The department leaders we have are awesome."
Stacey Harvey is the owner of Superior Walls in Rock Island, a company which serves the entire region and surrounding states.
“I bring to this stage tonight a desire to be a part of the solution to the problems we face in our small city, problems I believe cities of our size and demographics face all over this country," said Harvey.
Harvey said McMinnville's infrastructure needs are immense.
“This entire town is rotting down around us every day," he said. "When was the last time you saw a really aggressive street, road and bridge campaign here? I can’t think of it. I believe the current budget figures are $250,000 a year for road resurfacing in McMinnville. With a city of over 289 streets, that’s just not going to get it. We also have a lack of affordable housing here. It seems you need affordable housing for young folks and you need affordable housing for old folks because a lot of people age out of their house."
Harvey said he doesn't believe the city is meeting the need for housing with new home construction.
"By the Dodge reports, there are about 30 homes built each year inside the city limits of McMinnville. This is a national report that gets every city and county in the entire country," said Harvey.
Harvey also cited homelessness as a big issue and getting more citizens involved.
“A room of seven people cannot make decisions effectively for 13,000. I can’t be the only one who has wanted to come back to their hometown, start a business and raise a family. I’ve done that and I’ve done that successfully. I started a business that’s very technical in this town. I funded it very tightly. I’ve paid over $45 million in payroll to residents of Warren County. I’ve brought in over $1.6 million in local sales and use tax in my business. I make payroll every week. I work with tons of blue-collar folks, white-collar folks. I think I have a really good view about the cross section of what it takes to run a business in this town and to deal with the people who live in this town. I believe I know what people want and I can deliver on that.”
Jay Medley works at West Warren Viola Utility District as an equipment operator. A father of two, he volunteers as a baseball and basketball coach for both his kids and wants to keep McMinnville on the right track for his children.
“I want to serve on this board to work with my fellow aldermen to ensure an efficient government to make sure all the essential services are being provided to our citizens," said Medley. "I always want to be part of the solution to the challenging issues. I know from owning my own business the importance of working within your budget and not overspending. I also know when overspending happens, because it will, it takes discipline and time to overcome deficits, but I also know it’s possible. I will begin with an open mind and I’ll listen and learn. My votes will be based on the facts of what I believe to be in the best interest of the citizens of McMinnville. I am proud to be a citizen of McMinnville. This city is amazing."
Medley said he believes being an open-minded person will serve him well if he's elected.
"I'm willing to use the facts that are given on a daily basis to make decisions that are best for our citizens, not just one person’s agenda or the agenda we’re looking for. I’d like to see our utility workers and city employees get the raises they deserve. If you can’t keep city employees then you have no city government."
Medley indicated McMinnville Police Department is one area where he'd like to see more local residents have a presence.
"I think one of the last 10 police officers we’ve hired have been from McMinnville," said Medley. "Everyone else has been from out of town, out of county. We need to put more effort into making our Police Department somewhere people want to work. I think we need to put a lot of effort and focus into making the city of McMinnville a place where people want to stay and work and build their careers."
Dennis Kronlage says he doesn't have political aspirations past serving the people of the city on the Board of Mayor and Aldermen.
“I’m a retired single guy whose family is literally this community," said Kronlage, who is a former attorney with 32 years of experience. Kronlage is also a veteran of U.S. Air Force and he's owned and managed residential commercial properties.
Among his communtiy service he has served on the board of directors for the Senior Center and is the current chair of RSVP advisory board. He's delivered meals through Meals on Wheels and through his church.
“We have a revitalized downtown, new businesses, shops, restaurants, a restored Park Theater, a soon-to-be-reopened expanded and improved Civic Center and a new motel under construction. I want to see that progress continue," said Kronlage, who is among the candidates concerned with the city's growing homeless population.
"We have a housing shortage for nearly all income levels and price ranges as well as many derelict and abandoned properties," he said. "We have a segment of our community that is still mired in poverty and drugs."
"I think I have a demonstrated willingness and desire to serve. I also have a very varied life experience with a lot of experience in different areas both work and in my career as a lawyer. I was a blue-collar lawyer. I represented the people in all kinds of situations so I think I have a pretty good read on people and their needs and desires. I think that makes me a good fit for this office because we have a lot of problems we need to address. We have a housing problem. We have homeless. We have a housing problem in a multi-level way. It’s one thing to say we want to attract people to live here, but where are they going to live. There’s a shortage of housing on all income levels. There are three homeless encampments in the city right now. I don’t know if you’re aware of that. Maybe put up some tiny homes."
Sally Brock said she is eager to serve on the Board of Mayor and Aldermen to continue her career in public service.
“I am retired, which means I have the time needed to fulfill the duties of alderman," said Brock. "I also have 44 years of business experience, including 10 years at the Chamber of Commerce. I consider myself a public servant, not a politician. I’m also a deal maker, not a deal breaker."
Brock noted she's helped break gender barriers. She was the first female president of Evening Exchange Club and also the club's first female member.
“I served four terms on the County Commission, which I feel qualifies me to serve as a city alderman," said Brock, who indicated the city is on solid ground. "Our city is financially stable. The ending balance for 2018-19 was $4.8 million. For the year 2019-2020, it was $4.7 million. That means both of those years exceeded the $2.5 million the city needs to begin each new year. The Police Department move to City Hall will save the city $100,000 annually."
Brock said her maturity gives her the experience needed to serve on the city board.
"I am an older person. I’ve had a lot of experience. I’ve had an abundance of experience in government, not necessarily city, but government is government and I did spend four terms on the County Commission and served on many committees during that time."
"The one thing I’d want us to focus on is probably infrastructure. That does include roads and sidewalks and sewer lines. I know there is some grant money to do that with. I don’t know how much the city can do for individuals as far as bringing their business back," she said referring to COVID financial losses. "I’m not sure about that. If there’s more government money coming down from above, I think that’s a wonderful thing and we could help with that."
Nathan Maxweill is a 2004 Warren County High School graduate who currently teaches college economics
“This is really where I want to be," said Maxwell of living in McMinnville.
He said the pandemic has created some unprecedented times, but that doesn't have to be all bad.
"The thing about challenges is oftentimes challenges come with opportunities," he said. "If you can make it out the other side, you can come out a lot of times stronger and better than when you started and you can learn a few things along the way. You have to be responsible as a city government to maintain a strong, fiscal position, but it’s also important that you keep moving, you keep your eye on the future. We have to continue to make McMinnville the kind of place where people want to live. I think one of the things people are really looking for is they want a community they can belong to. People want to socialize and enjoy their friends and neighbors but they also want to be able to make a living."
Maxwell continued, "This is not something city government can do alone. It takes everyone working on their piece of the puzzle to make things come together and work. The best way to have a strong city is to have a growing economy in a vibrant community people want to participate in. I think my experience as an economist in the small business community in banking and in education for several years, I think that would help me contribute to those goals.”
Maxwell said his status as a college instructor puts him in touch with the younger generation of students about to enter the workforce.
"I’ve been in education and I continue to teach classes so I see a lot of what our local students and young folks what they try to do and where they want to go and the goals they are trying to achieve. I’m concerned about a lot of the local businesses and industries that have been affected by this (COVID). For a lot of nonprofits and civic organizations, this has been a really hard year and I want to see the damage there minimized."
Rickey Jones has been a local business owner for 20 years and he previously served as an alderman on the board close to 20 years ago.
“I love this city. I’ve been from north to south and coast to coast and I’ve not seen a better place," said Jones. "This is home. We seem to have a spending problem. We all know our personal budgets at home. We have to make things balance. We have a problem that needs to be corrected. I’m not against spending.
Jones was an alderman from 1997 to 2002. He said during that time, the city Water Department was on the verge of bankruptcy and officials worked through that. Also during that time he said the city built a new fire hall, bought a new ladder truck, bought the Park Theater, bought The Hole, built Pepper Branch Park and built the greenway.
“We did all those things because the town needed it. When I grew up here, it seemed the town would never move forward. I was part of a group and I’m happy to say we worked hard at getting us out of that mold and bringing us to the modern age. We also built a new swimming pool, Farmers Market, and implemented a new garbage collection system. If you think about it, that’s a lot. Don’t paint me as someone who doesn’t like doing things or doesn’t like spending the money. I like spending money just like everyone else, but I want our city to be sound financially.”
Jones said he first time on the city board was "a learning experience for sure."
"I feel I’m very well qualified with the city board and mayor to bring about any kind of projects that need to be done, but I want to continue to balance our budget so we can continue to do the things we want to do. We’ve talked about an indoor pool and several other things. We also need to take care of maintenance. That’s one thing that often gets pushed under the rug. I tried to get a concensus on rebuilding the sidewalks when I was there before but that got pushed aside because we had so many things on our plate and evidently it’s been pushed outside the doors ever since then because nobody has picked it up."