District 1 candidates: Trust now an issue

Sunday, August 3, 2008

When the contest for District 1 commissioner for Cape Girardeau County began, the candidates talked about roads. Specifically, they each sought to portray themselves as having qualifications that make them the best person to oversee and improve the county's paving program.

Now, candidates said in a series of interviews, voters want someone they can trust because they have lost respect for the current crop of officeholders. Battles over the Sunshine Law, the handling of Auditor David Ludwig's Internet habits and the secret recording of conversations and closed meetings are angering the public. Other actions are adding to the loss of esteem. They cite the vote by Presiding Commissioner Gerald Jones and District 1 incumbent Larry Bock to strip District 2 Commissioner Jay Purcell of oversight responsibilities for several departments.

"I think the county commission right now, from the people I have heard from, has lost all the respect from the county," said Joe Bob Baker, one of 10 Republicans on the ballot.

"The majority of the feedback I get is that people are fed up with the arguing," said Rick Shultz, who is also seeking the GOP nomination.

Voters will choose from a baker's dozen of candidates. Along with the 10 Republicans, three Democrats are vying for the office. The winner will serve a four-year term.

Along with trust and roads, candidates are trying to stake out territory that will set them apart. The first part of the newcomer's term will be busy if the items suggested -- a study of charter government, a review of county subsidies to Cape County Private Ambulance and establishing full-time, regular office hours for commissioners, among others -- are debated.

In addition, most candidates have endorsed webcasts of commission meetings and night meetings.

Here's a look at each candidate, in ballot order:

Rick Aufdenberg

Aufdenberg, 50, is a Republican who farms and drives a truck for Drury Hotels. Aufdenberg wants night meetings, supports webcasting of meetings and wants agendas prepared more than 24 hours in advance of a meeting. The situation at the county commission shows the pitfalls of being in office too long, according to Aufdenberg, so he is promising to seek re-election only once if he wins. "The longer someone is in office, the more they take their office for granted. Larry and Gerald have been in so long they can do what they want."

Aufdenberg said the county policy that asks landowners to sign easements creating a 60-foot-wide road corridor should be re-examined. "They need a standard. Sixty feet is a standard, but that is a difficult sell."

Joe Bob Baker

Baker, 55, is a Republican in his ninth year on the Jackson Board of Aldermen. Baker is also a salvage yard operator. Baker said he is good friends with Jones and Sheriff John Jordan but said friendship won't be a factor in decision making. He blames the commissioners for making voters cynical. "With all the turmoil in the county, I think it is unfair that candidates have been roped into it."

Purcell has good ideas but poor tactics, Baker said.

Baker promises to devote himself to the job, noting that he has missed only one city meeting in nine years. Baker wants to hold night meetings for the commission. He's willing to look at a charter government.

H. Weldon Macke

Macke, 77, is a Republican who was county auditor for 34 years. He also owns several business, selling farm equipment and construction. Macke points to past achievements, including helping with the founding of the Missouri Association of Counties as an advocacy group to lobby the legislature and the creation of the regional planning commission. He said his age doesn't mean he's set in his ways. Macke was among the first to start talking seriously about a charter government for the county. "I am not too old to do a few new things."

Macke is the at-large member of the Road and Bridge Advisory Board and supports the county easement policy. "You can't just go out in the county and say that little old road needs some blacktop," he said.

As far as the commission's fights, Macke said tempers need to cool.

Tom Allen

Allen, 57, is a Republican and retired educator who most recently held the post of superintendent of the Delta School District. Allen has attended almost every commission meeting held since he filed for office.

"We need to put the personal agendas away and do what is right for the good of the county," Allen said.

Allen is touting his background in education administration as qualification to watch over county tax dollars. He wants a thorough review of the Cape Girardeau County Transit Authority's finances. The authority has projected a $103,000 budget deficit. The transit authority "can't continue to lose in six figures every year," he said.

The easement requirement should be reduced except for locations where a wider easement will enable the county to straighten dangerous curves, he said.

Stephen Daume

Daume, 39, is a Republican who breeds cattle and is a partner in Deer Ridge Animal Hospital. He's making trust in government a big issue and said it is a top concern of voters. "The No. 1 issue is the conduct of the commissioners and the bickering."

Daume is pushing for an improved county Web site that includes webcasting meetings and posting commission minutes online. He wants the commission to seek ways to improve Internet service in rural parts of the county as well. Daume said he will have full-time office hours and wants to have a public debate about charter government.

On roads, he said the 60-foot easement requirement is excessive.

Bill Hahs

Hahs, 57, is a Republican who owns Semo Ag & Dairy and is a member of the Road and Bridge Advisory Board. Due to demands of his business, he was unable to come to the Southeast Missourian for an interview, but he has defended the 60-foot easement policy in public forums, emphasizing that it promotes fairness.

Hahs wants to post agendas earlier than the 24-hour minimum required in the Sunshine Law, consider switching county workers to four 10-hour days each week. Hahs wants to station ambulances around the county, possibly at some fire district stations. He has said he wants to have night meetings of the commission every week and is willing to research whether charter government would be a good idea.

Paul Koeper

Koeper, 53, is a Republican and vice president of Penzel Construction. He's a civil engineer and said experience and training will make him a strong watchdog.

Roads have faded as an issue for voters in the face of commission fighting, he said. Longevity in office is at least partly to blame, Koeper said. "Gerald Jones has been in for several years, and apparently Gerald still likes things going his way. He needs to come around and see it is not just his way."

The easement policy of 60 feet should be reviewed, Koeper said. And the chip-and-seal experiment on four county roads this year should be carefully monitored. Koeper also wants to review the ambulance subsidy "to see if we are getting everything we should."

Rick Shultz

Shultz, 48, is a Republican who works as an independent commercial lighting salesman. He said voters are angry with the spectacle in county government. "The majority of the feedback I get is that people are fed up with the arguing."

Shultz said he's a successful salesman because he has strong communication skills. Those skills will come in handy, he said, helping sooth strained relations both on the commission and with landowners reluctant to sign easements.

Shultz wants to look at the ambulance issue, explore planning and zoning, review tax assessments, post signs warning motorists of blind spots on county roads and improve maintenance of gravel roads. "I think people are ready for someone who doesn't have political baggage," he said.

Jeff Hahs

Hahs, 53, is a Republican who owns a construction company. Outside incorporated cities, Hahs said, voters are still most concerned about roads. But inside the towns, he said, people are more concerned about the commission. Purcell has a lot of support, Hahs said, even when people question his methods. "His heart is in the right place."

Hahs is a supporter of selling bonds to accelerate the paving program. He also wants to push for an ambulance district if Cape County Private Ambulance won't station ambulances in rural locations.

Kenneth Waldron

Waldron, 66, is a former lawyer who held the office of Jackson city attorney for 13 years. A Republican, he currently owns Eagle Environmental Products. Waldron said his background makes him qualified to navigate problems the county is having with the Sunshine Law. "I feel it is going to come down to background and qualifications."

He has a 10-point plan for county that includes opposition to a charter, consideration of four 10-hour days for county workers and increased efforts for industrial recruitment.

The idea of selling bonds to speed up the paving program is an iffy proposition, he said.

Pat Wissman

Wissman, 51, is a Democrat who sold his trucking business to devote himself to the commission race. He's been a regular at commission meetings since the spring. "I've been watching it for quite a while. They don't really run what I would call a tight ship."

Wissman said Purcell was right to bring Sunshine Law violations to the foreground but wrong to record conversations in closed meetings.

Wissman wants to record and broadcast commission meetings and hold night meetings. He also wants commissioners to stop taking telephone calls during meetings. And he said commissioners should stop conferring in the back room during meetings. "It is an illegal meeting within a meeting in violation of the Sunshine Law."

Marvin McMillan

McMillan, 59, is a Democrat who drives a truck for Ready Mix Concrete in Perryville and is a former farmer. He said the trust issue has been building for a long time and blames Bock. Poor road maintenance and over-promising on paving requests is part of it, he said. "Rural people are fed up with county road maintenance. Our District 1 commissioner has not been there for them."

McMillan said residents in the northern and southern parts of the county feel neglected and that the county needs to have ambulances stationed in rural locations.

Myra Morris

Morris is a Democrat who works at Southeast Missouri Hospital. She did not respond to a message last week requesting an interview. At the only forum with the candidates from both parties, Morris said she will "do my best because I am honest and fair."

Asked what specific qualification she has, Morris replied: "I really don't have any qualifications for the position."

Later in the forum, Morris promised to "make sure all the roads are kept up and the weeds kept down."

rkeller@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 126

1st District commissioner video montage

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