Candidates for Cape Girardeau County public administrator took to the podium Wednesday at Chateau Girardeau to answer questions about their qualifications for the job from members of the Missouri Retired Teachers Association.
Mary Cotner, a Democrat and physical therapist, and Lisa Reitzel, a Republican and nurse for a surgery center, outlined their goals for office and talked to the group about how they perceive the role of public administrator in the lives of individuals for whom they'll serve as a court-appointed guardian, those individuals' families and the administrators of health care facilities and social service agencies they will likely encounter in the course of a day's work.
The county's current public administrator, Phyllis Schwab, will retire following the Nov. 6 general election.
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 their own basic needs such as food, clothing, shelter or safety. Those in the administrator's care are declared incapacitated by a probate judge.
Cotner has been a physical therapist for 25 years and serves on the board of Horizons Enrichment Center, which provides a day program for people with developmental and mental disabilities.
"I love my job, but I feel like there is a need here, and I want to try it," she said of her decision to run for the position. If elected, Cotner said she plans to give priority to initial visits for each person as a way of evaluating their situation and keeping tabs on it as long as they were in her care.
"I want to make sure I know the quality of life for all of them, and if their quality of life is good, I want to see it maintained and see that there is no neglect taking place," Cotner said.
Many people under the supervision of the public administrator are placed in nursing homes or assisted living facilities.
"One day, the person looked out for by the public administrator could be one of my parents, or it could be me. It could be anyone's family," she said. "I hope that the one in there then is someone who is conscientious of individual needs and takes care of those needs."
Reitzel's bid for the office took on a political element when she was one of 13 Republicans to file for candidacy. She won the nomination in the August primary. Cotner ran unopposed.
On Wednesday, Reitzel said she sees the role of public administrator more as a way to act as a patient advocate, but said she does like politics and is not ashamed to admit she is an active member of the Republican Party. If she wins over Cotner in November, all of Cape Girardeau County's officeholders will be Republicans.
She said her strategy to prepare for the possibility she will be elected to the job has included talking to public administrators in other counties, and when she has the opportunity, talking to Schwab about the role, as well as going door-to-door to hear from potential voters and talk about the position and its duties.
Reitzel said while compassion for people has been often used as a characteristic by candidates for public administrator, the people she has talked to, medical facility administrators and directors of nursing included, say it is, in fact, the most important one to have.
3120 Independence St., Cape Girardeau, Mo.