Five may run for county commission

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The list of people seeking the open seat on the Cape Girardeau County Commission is growing.

Incumbent Larry Bock, a Republican who represents Jackson and most of the county's rural precincts, said in October that he will not seek another four-year term in the post he has held since 1992. Dairy equipment dealer Bill Hahs and former county auditor Weldon Macke were the first to announce their interest in the seat. They are now joined by Paul Koeper, vice president of Penzel Construction Co., Rick Aufdenberg, a farmer from Tilsit, and Ken Evans, who is self-employed after 29 years at Procter & Gamble.

Aufdenberg and Koeper along with Hahs are definitely running for the GOP nomination for the seat, officially known as District 1 Commissioner. Evans joined Macke in considering a bid.

No Democrats have indicated interest in the post, which currently pays $61,162 a year. Expected cost-of-living adjustments would increase the pay to more than $65,000 by the time a new commissioner takes office.

The District 1 Commissioner is responsible for oversight of the County Highway Department, and roads could be the dominant issue in the race. County voters approved a new sales tax for roads and law enforcement in 2006 in a campaign that revealed serious voter concerns over whether they could trust the commission to deal fairly with requests for paving.

Three of the announced or potential candidates -- Hahs, Macke and Evans -- are members of the year-old County Road and Bridge Advisory Board. The board has sorted through requests for paving and set priorities and rules for future applicants that won commission approval. They also proposed using a portion of the money for an experiment with chip-and-seal surfacing in an attempt to find a solution to dust control issues and a low-cost alternative to asphalt.

At the board's most recent meeting, the chairman, Larry Payne, advised candidates to tell the press anything they wanted as an individual but not to reference their position on the advisory board to make their comments.

"The press promotes hate and discontent; they sell more papers," Payne said.

Chip-and-seal questioned

Koeper, 52, was born and raised in Perryville, Mo., and has worked for Penzel for 30 years. He resides in Jackson, and holds a bachelor's degree in civil engineering. His construction and engineering background make him a good fit for the post, Koe-per said. "What got me thinking about this is that would be right down my alley," he said.

The chip-and-seal proposal, which targeted 10 miles of roads in several different locations, isn't a good solution, Koeper said. "Structurally it has no value," Koeper said. "If you put it on top of a gravel road, the base has to be very, very good or it is going to deteriorate."

Chip-and-seal, Koeper said, is analogous to putting a roof rated for five years on a brand new home.

Aufdenberg, 49, farms 600 acres near Tilsit, raising cattle and row crops. He also drives a truck for Drury Hotels. He said an honest, solidly conservative approach to budgeting and roads will renew voter confidence in the commission.

"We need, as commissioners, to improve our reputation," Aufdenberg said.

The county is moving in the right direction with approval of the tax, he said. And the problem is a matter of perception as much as reality, Aufdenberg added.

"When you get deep into things, they are doing a good job," Aufdenberg said. "We need the integrity of the commission to be brought forward."

Aufdenberg, like Koeper, said chip-and-seal is unacceptable as a long-term paving method.

One point both Koeper and Aufdenberg made is that the rising price of crude oil will inflate the price of future paving contracts, so it is important not to make paving promises that cost more than the tax can support.

"They may not get as much accomplished as they planned," Aufdenberg said.

Still considering a bid

Along with Macke, Evans said he hasn't made a firm commitment to a campaign. "When I was asked to join this advisory committee, I had no political ambitions. But to tell the truth, after seeing some things and learning some things, I might be able to make a positive contribution, and it is something I am considering."

Of the five potential candidates, only Macke has held public office previously or been a candidate.

Aufdenberg said he's running at the urging of friends, and was pushed to run in 2004, when Bock fought off eight challengers to retain the Republican nomination. He wasn't ready in 2004, Aufdenberg said, but he feels ready now. "I am just eager to get more hands-on," he said.

Koeper said the timing is right because he's eligible to retire after 30 years on the job. He, too, said friends have urged him to use his experience in road construction -- he's supervised numerous road projects for Penzel -- on the commission. "They have encouraged me and said they think I need to go for it," Koeper said. "I can't say I am a true politician, but I can tell people what I am for, who I am, and ask them to look at my background."

335-6611, extension 126

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