Eight candidates for four city commission seats are introduced Tuesday evening at the Candidate Forum sponsored by the Liberal Chamber of Commerce, KSCB The Legend Radio and the Leader & Times at the Rock Island Depot in Liberal. One common thread among the candidates is that Liberal needs to meet the housing shortages which is important to existing businesses looking to expand and to encourage new business to move to the area. L&T photo/Robert Pierce
To watch a full video recap of the city candidate forum, visit http://bit.ly/ZKh9fo on a computer or stop by our Facebook page for a link to Tuesday night's broadcast. You must view the video on a computer.
Candidates discuss police turnover, housing, economic growth
By ROBERT PIERCE
• Leader & Times
Eight candidates, including the current mayor, three former mayors and one other incumbent, answered questions from the public Tuesday evening at the Rock Island Depot.
The candidates are each seeking one of four seats on the Liberal City Commission in the April 2 election.
All of the candidates agreed that housing and economic development are big problems in the community, but another hot button issue was fielded during the two-hour forum.
Recent reports have indicated that the Liberal Police Department has lost a number of officers for various reasons, and the candidates were asked what they would do in order to retain police officers in the community.
Former mayor Ivanhoe Love Jr. said the LPD is one of the most important departments the city has, and the commission needs to do whatever it takes to keep officers in Liberal.
“The police department in my view, is one of the toughest departments that we have,” he said. “The officers put themselves on the line each and every day to ensure public safety, and I am committed to assuring that those young men and women who do sacrifice are well equipped and well paid. They deserve the best leadership we can possibly bring to a community. They’re essential to our community, and I will do all that I can to promote them and to ensure that they have a good quality of life.”
Candidate Dean Aragon agreed, saying he supports doing what is necessary for the LPD.
“I think we might be able to look at some opportunities where we can help them improve their retention,” he said. “I, myself, feel safe living in Liberal, Kansas, with what they do. They’re short handed. I would really like to do whatever we can to support them and help them improve their retention.”
Current mayor Tim Long said whatever solution is found to the problem could be used by other entities as well.
“I think if anybody comes up with a solution, the school board would love to have whatever the result is,” he said. “We are a city of transition. I deal with this in business every day. We train new people, and the production companies hire them away from me. It’s just part of the cycle.”
Long said Liberal will always be a training ground for larger cities.
“Then, they’re going to be recruited by Wichita or Topeka or Kansas City or any other larger community,” he said. “I think you’re always going to have a certain amount of rotation throughout our departments. I do not feel that we have a turnover that necessarily requires attention right now. I don’t believe it’s any worse than it has been in the past.”
Vice mayor Joe Denoyer said new policies and procedures need to be looked at, and city officials need to talk to outgoing officers.
“Some of the reasons they’re giving for leaving are not really what they’re feeling, so we can’t do anything,” he said. “They need to be honest.”
While the problem is ongoing, Denoyer said it can be lightened.
“We’re going to continue to lose quality officers, but if we can slow down the outflow through looking at different things and talking to those that are leaving, I think that might help,” he said.
Candidate Julio Jimenez said the problem does not start in the police department but rather with the city’s leadership.
“I don’t think there’s a problem with the police department,” he said. “I think it’s with the leadership. The commission needs to start looking at what’s going on and why are we losing policemen. We can’t be a training ground forever.”
Incumbent Dave Harrison said he feels there are no simple answers to the problem.
“It’s not just police officers,” he said. “It’s Southwest Medical Center. It’s teachers. It’s oil field workers. It’s a tough sale here. If there are some problems in the police department that need to be looked at, I think we probably need to be looking at that. I think that’s being done daily trying to figure out solutions.”
Harrison added losing officers is not a new problem for Liberal.
“We’ve had at least five chiefs of police since I’ve been here,” he said. “That change has not been a cure for the problem. We still have the problem. We’ve done what we can to increase pay, cars. I’m open to suggestions, new ideas.”
Candidate Jack Carlile said he would like to see the exit interviews that are done when an officer leaves the LPD, as well as other research, to gain an insight to a solution.
“I’d also like to know why a police officer of 27 years quit to go to a lower paying job,” he said. “I don’t call that transit. I don’t call that moving on to another department. I think we need to look real hard at the police department and why are we doing budget cuts on the police department. We cut out two officers, according to the Leader & Times. That is gutting our safe and secure city.”
Former mayor Ron Warren said listening could be a good beginning to finding a solution.
“We’ve got to be listening to what the problems are,” he said. “We’ve got to talk to everybody that’s involved, and we’ve got to try to solve the problem. I believe it’s not just that we lose trained officers. We have problems beyond that are causing us to lose officers. I don’t know what the problem is exactly. We have to be open and listen. If we listen, we’ll be able to solve this problem.”
The current city commissioners were later asked about if and why cuts were made to the police department’s personnel. Long said he could not remember any being made, and he also addressed Carlile’s concern about exit interviews.
“I think if you were to do exit reports on any of my employees that leave, I’d probably guess 80 percent of those are going to tell you that there’s something wrong with the ownership,” Long said.
Harrison did admit the city has had declining revenues in recent years that have been funded with reserves, but the police department has been addressed.
“We’ve added technology to the police department which allows us to reduce manpower,” he said. “That’s called efficiency in government.”
In questions later aimed at particular candidates, Carlile answered questions about allegedly purchasing “likes” on his Facebook page for his candidacy. He said the page was left in the hands of his campaign manager, Paul Hoag, whom the candidate referred questions to when the Leader & Times had called him about it.
“I didn’t have the answers they were looking for,” Carlile said.
The candidate also claimed because of an ongoing lawsuit with the newspaper, he and Hoag are limited in their contacts with the L&T, as a general rule.
Carlile then admitted the likes were purchased to get his campaign message out to more people.
“They weren’t purchased to mislead anyone,” he said. “I don’t see how they could. The voters of Liberal are going to cast their ballots based on the issues, not on the number of likes on a candidate’s Facebook page. They’re smarter than that, and I think it’s pretty ridiculous for anyone to imply otherwise.”