Wyandotte County voters on Tuesday will decide who holds the reins as Mayor/CEO of Unified Government.
KCUR’s Dan Verbeck has background on two candidates who bring distinctly different approaches to operating the post.
Each serves as a member of the local governing commission, survivors of a spirited primary campaign and election. The candidates appeared to answer questions posed by a panel in a forum at Kansas City Kansas Community College. Appearing in alphabetical order:
“My name is Mark Holland, I’m fourth generation Wyandotte County, third generation pastor in the community and I’ve been serving on the Unified Government Board of Commissioners for the last six years as an at-large commissioner."
"I’m Ann Murguia, and I’ve spent my entire adult life working in community service right here in Wyandotte County.”
Now the Mayor/CEO of Unified Government of Kansas City, Kansas and Wyandotte County is a mouthful, so we’ll call them “Mayor” and “U.G.”
The theme of this evening forum is economic development of Wyandotte County, defining it, planning it, paying for it. The candidates come at this from two recurring perspectives.
Holland thinks recent successes have been well-refined and the strategy deserves keeping and using. Murguia wants a study of citizen wants before a plan of action is in place.
Four dozen listeners in the audience will hear the themes repeated.
Murguia and Holland were asked how they would lead the entire U.G. Commission for positive community growth. Murguia would run a county-wide survey.
“It would be a county-wide survey broken down by district, so that each commissioner on the Commission could understand what priorities are of the different areas of the community. As you all know here tonight, the priorities out in western Wyandotte county are probably very different than in downtown Kansas City, Kansas, or even in the midtown area.”
Holland has heard Murguia’s talk of surveys often in the campaign and says,“We don’t have time to wait for a survey to find out what people need. We’ve already known the work, and we know what people need. We know what constituents have told their commissioners, and we’ve already begun that process. We have a strategic plan in place right now.”
Holland added,”What a shame to waste momentum built over last 16 years.”
The border war between Kansas and Missouri for businesses and jobs crept into the structured conversation.
Cerner Corporation and Google Fiber are growing in the County, Missouri has its own developments. So how would the Mayoral candidates keep the spotlight on their community?
Holland would spend his first year in office opening opportunities in the Fairfax Industrial District, home of the General Motors Plant, looking for new industry.
“But this opens up a whole new marketplace for us of a new kind of business that has never been in the Midwest," Holland said. "It’s always been on the West and East coast. We need to strike while the iron’s hot.”
Holland said there is already a team in place for this Google Fiber, but “we definitely need to accelerate it. I’m anticipating we have 12 to 18 months to get this in place before the rest of the metropolitan area gets this. We need to be first in the nation to take advantage of it for our business community and our citizens.”
Then it was Murguia’s turn to counter a tenet of the other’s campaign. Holland suggested a momentum is driving the community. It is, said Murguia, but not in the urban core, which she said is growing poverty.
She looks to land bank property, acquiring it at an inexpensive price, to take blighted property off the tax rolls.
“If we had a mayor who was out there that was aggressively marketing what we have in Wyandotte County and aggressively marketing these land bank properties, we might be able to encourage some of those technology businesses to actually locate within our city and grow a whole technology center, like they have in places like Boulder, Colo.”
Holland and Murguia, and many others, expect less state revenue, especially in the next year. So how would they cope with it?
Holland said federal and state cuts are the greatest threat to schools and counties, Governor Sam Brownback’s effort to cut state income tax.
“Number one, we need to lobby the state and need to take a strong stance against Brownback’s policies that are hurting all of Kansas and especially hurting Wyandotte County. We also need to take a strong stance in addressing all of our city services and finding ways of being more efficient and doing more with less.”
Ann Murguia sees revenue for economic development coming, in part, from the private sector, willing to invest.
“We have some great partners here in Wyandotte County that have the same common goals we have that we could use and be partners with to meet some of our constituents' needs,” she said.
Top immediate goals for Holland include revitalizing the downtown and connecting local people with thousands of new jobs he anticipates.
Murguia would restore livable housing east of I-635 where blight is destroying the community.
One of the two will be mayor by day’s end Tuesday.