(Laura Simon) [Order this photo]
The words used by the Republican candidates for Cape Girardeau County public administrator were strikingly similar Thursday night at a meeting of the Southeast Missouri Pachyderm Club. But each of the 12 GOP candidates -- Deb Tracy did not attend due to illness -- worked to separate themselves from a crowded field with less than four months until the Aug. 7 primary.
That may have proved difficult with tight time limits necessitated by the sheer number of participants. Candidates were brought into the room at Dexter Bar-B-Que one at a time and each was given no more than a minute and a half to answer the four questions that were intended to shed light on why they should garner voter support. They were also only given one minute for opening statements and two for closing comments.
Democrat Mary Cotner, a physical therapist who believes her experience raising a daughter with mental challenges makes her well suited for the job, was not invited.
The candidates who did attend were Mary Ann Friese, Stuart Hoeller, Helen Jackson, Kim Kelley, Phyllis Mayfield, Julie Metzger, Linda Nash, Janet Niedbalski, Lisa Reitzel, Scott Schnurbusch, Sharon Schuessler and Tammy Sladek.
Club president and Cape Girardeau County Auditor Pete Frazier said the candidate forum was intended to enlighten club members with enough information to make an informed decision. They could also share their impressions of the candidates with their friends and neighbors to help them become better informed before the election.
Perhaps the most interesting question of the night asked what characteristics -- other than compassion -- a good public administrator should have. Having compassion has been an oft-repeated refrain from several of the candidates.
"We felt like each of the candidates were strong in that area," Frazier said. "There's a lot more to the job than that, and we wanted to try to draw out some other aspects that they felt they were strong in."
The question that caused the most stumbles, and more than a few awkward silences, asked what parts of the Republican platform each of the candidates espoused.
The job, which pays $72,000 annually, requires serving as a guardian or conservator for about 150 county residents who suffer from physical or mental conditions severe enough that they lack the capacity to meet basic requirements such as food, clothing, shelter or safety. Those in the administrator's care are declared incapacitated by a probate judge.
At the forum Thursday, candidates touted experience, which ranged from backgrounds in nursing and social work to finance and law enforcement. A few of the candidates talked about tough medical decisions that they've had to make for family members and loved ones.
Reitzel, for example, touted her 20 years' experience as a nurse and patient advocate. Nash said her years as executive director of the Court Appointed Special Advocates of Southeast Missouri gave her the administrative experience and a concern for "self-efficacy." Kelley said her dual background as a nurse and a long business career made her the clear choice.
Schuessler said voters should support her because she would care for the wards and has a strong background in finance. Being able to multitask and communicate well with the wards and the large number of various agencies is her strong suit, Friese said. Jackson said her 35 years working for the state would make her a good public administrator.
Metzger said she is the only candidate with 25 years of professional experience in social work. Hoeller worked for nearly 20 years in finance for Chrysler Credit. Sladek pointed out that she's unique among the candidates because she is the deputy public administrator, which she suggested makes her the logical choice.
Mayfield's 27 years at Heartland Care and Rehab said she already works with many of the relevant agencies, including the state Department of Mental Health, Veterans Affairs, area physicians and dozens of families in her job. Niedbalski has cared for a disabled son for years. And Schnurbusch, who went last, touted his 15 years of law enforcement experience.
After the meeting, Frazier acknowledged that it will be no easy task for the candidates to distinguish themselves.
"Honestly, it could come down to 500 votes," Frazier said. "That's what makes it difficult to ascertain who has the best chance."
236 S. Broadview St., Cape Girardeau, MO