Candidates for Kirksville’s upcoming city council elections discussed citizens’ concerns about the economic direction of Kirksville during a forum Monday at the A.T. Still University.
A panel of four interviewers presented questions to candidates about downtown revitalization, the city budget, bringing jobs to Kirksville and each candidate’s perception of the town’s strengths and areas for improvement. Each of the four candidates — Betty McLane-Iles, Robert Russell, Kevin A. Alm and Phillip Biston — gave opening statements, responded to each of the panel’s questions and concluded their contributions with closing statements.
The moderators were four community members — Jason Hunsicker from the Daily Express, Sarah Lovegreen from the Chamber of Commerce Governmental Affairs Committee, John Garlock from KTVO and Chari Eckloff from KLTE. The panel addressed the candidates with questions about key issues facing the community.
McLane-Iles said her platform is based on three main ideas — her status as an educated woman and the longstanding lack of female presence on the council, advocacy for the poor, unemployed, small businesses and land owners, and a passion for social justice.
Russell said he describes himself as an advocate for the average person and is an avid supporter of small businesses and community cohesion. He said he is an advocate of conservative spending and would work to decrease what he said are unnecessary city purchases.
Alm said he would govern as a “common man” and long-time Kirksville resident, homeowner and community member. He said he would be open to citizens’ ideas and participation in city government.
Biston said he owns Property Concepts, LLC, a local small business, and is committed to the community and concerned for the city economy. He said he hopes to bring more employers to the Kirksville area and said he thinks his professional experience would be an asset to the council in working toward that goal.
Moderators: The Tax Increment Financing Commission has proposed to pledge up to $400,000 in funds to a revitalization pilot program aimed to improve facades, awnings, and parking on two blocks in downtown Kirksville. What are your thoughts on this plan and what do you think needs to happen to make downtown successful?
McLane-Iles said she would like to see the downtown area updated after consultation with current shop owners, particularly by removing some of the awnings that extend from the storefronts.
Russell said he would like to revitalize the downtown area, but emphasized it would be counter-productive if it would impose costs on the businesses on The Square.
Alm said he thinks the downtown area needs to be the center for more activities and community gatherings. He said he thinks the bypass has diverted many people away from the town center, and the city should encourage traffic to that area.
Biston said he supports downtown revitalization and thinks it greatly would benefit the city to invest the allotted money toward that end.
Moderators: Given the city budget, to which project would you like to see additional money allocated, and which parts of the budget would you cut from or how else would you propose to pay for these projects?
McLane-Iles said she would like to see the city repair potholes around town, and to further support local tourism.
Russell said he thinks the city should cut funds from many departments and focus on building a better infrastructure and improving the road system.
Alm said he would recommend cutting some current city government spending and inviting citizens to present community-oriented projects that could receive the re-allotted funds.
Biston said he would cut some of the funding for road salt during the winter to redistribute elsewhere.
Moderators: As a member of city council what could you do to bring more jobs to Kirksville?
McLane-Iles said she would like to see Kirksville develop possibilities for job creation including the digitalization of information and opportunities at local farms.
Russell said Kirksville residents need to be ambassadors for the city, or represent the city well when traveling or visiting other areas of the state and nation. He said money is going to better represented places because residents often haven’t represented the city well.
Alm said he thinks the city needs to advertise itself more, and people who have ideas should step forward and share.
Biston said he thinks the city could offer some incentives for businesses to come to Kirksville, including tax and water abatements. He said if incentives like these can bring new businesses, such initiatives could create jobs for the community.
Moderators: What are some positives about Kirksville and what would you do to improve upon them?
McLane-Iles said she thinks Kirksville has kind and giving people, historical wealth and educational institutions. She said she would like to see more collaboration between the city and local universities, as well as opportunities for documentaries that could be created to capture the historical significance of the town.
Russell said he has enjoyed living and working in Kirksville, but he said he thinks the city must do more to encourage young people to remain in the city as adults. He said he would like residents to remember the neighborly kindness that was so common in this town, and encouraged citizens to vote and become more involved in the community.
Alm said Kirksville has been his lifelong home. He said he would like to see more citizen participation in the community, and would like to combat the methamphetamine problem that still is prevalent throughout Adair county.
Biston said Kirksville has been an incredibly accepting place to live, work and raise a family for him. He said he would encourage more collaboration between local businesses and the student population, because both have assets that could benefit the other.
The City Council election will be April 7. To register to vote or to find an assigned polling place, visit the website for Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander.