MARYVILLE, Mo. — Candidates for three major local offices fielded questions Wednesday night at the candidate forum in the Lee and Nina Schneider Performing Arts Center, hosted by the Greater Maryville Chamber of Commerce.
Candidates for the Maryville R-II Board of Education, the Nodaway County Health Center Board of Trustees and the Maryville City Council answered questions from local media leaders and from the public ahead of the April 6 election. Chamber Executive Director Lily White said more than 50 questions — most for City Council candidates — were submitted by community members, easily the highest total since she took over leading the organization in 2016.
Because of the high volume of community questions, not all were asked, but were passed on to candidates to answer later if they wished.
Most candidates for all three governmental bodies were largely in agreement on broad strokes: all school board candidates declined to criticize any policies or decisions made by the existing board, and stressed that they did not have any particular goals in mind, preferring instead to simply keep things running smoothly.
Candidates for the public health board said the biggest area for improvement they saw was in communication with the public. Debra Hull, Mike Rosenbohm and David Smith were present, Bridget Kenny did not attend.
City Council candidates for the most part did not address questions with specific policy proposals, other than Ashlee Hendrix, who presented two: creating a new public information officer position to improve public communication, and partnering with Northwest Missouri State University to offer diversity and sensitivity trainings to city staff and interested members of the public.
John McBride focused primarily on infrastructure improvements, and said he would like to see the city spend more money on annual road maintenance. McBride did not say how he would like to see the process change or how much he would like to increase spending in that area.
Dannen Merrill frequently touted his financial expertise as a CPA in finding more effective ways to spend the city’s money.
MARYVILLE, Mo. — Representatives from HDR Engineering laid out their initial recommendations to overhaul the city’s drinking water systems Mon…
But all three council candidates found themselves in agreement more often than not: they shared a view that the most pressing issue facing the council is the water situation, and all were in support of the construction of a new water treatment facility. The trio also agreed that business owners who own a business in Maryville but do not live in the city should have more of a voice in city decisions.
Outside political support
Candidates for school board and council were each faced with community questions about outside support they may be receiving from political groups. Three candidates present at Wednesday’s forum — JR Kurz and Traci Westfall for school board and McBride for council — have been endorsed by Northern Missouri Citizens for Reflective Government, which has paid for signs for some candidates including Kurz and Tim Jackson, who was not present at the forum. The organization has also attacked other candidates in both races on social media.
The political group, though named for north Missouri, has thus far only weighed in on the two Maryville races, and indicates it is headquartered in Maryville. The donation page of the organization’s website is hosted by WinRed, a national platform created by Republican campaign strategists to raise money for conservative candidates across the country.
Kurz said he did not know about the group’s aggressive messaging about his opponents until recently, and said he does not "approve" of it. During Wednesday’s forum, Kurz said he has apologized "to some individuals who it's impacted," but did not say to whom or for what, specifically.
“As I said, I have been supported, I guess, by a political action committee," Kurz said. "The only reason I can think of is maybe they saw that I was the only candidate that didn't have any signs up, so they put some up for me, I don't know. And I'm not aware of the committee, I don't know who they are, I haven't had any communication with them.
“But as I said before, I know there have been some attacks, which I think there's no place for in this environment. This is a local school board for God's sakes, I didn't think it would involve any of this.”
Westfall said people should “be kind.” McBride said he has not taken funds from any political groups.
McBride, the only local candidate with a state-registered campaign committee, has accepted the majority of his campaign funds from individual donors outside of Maryville city limits. Candidates are required to form and register such committees if they receive more than $300 from a single donor, spend more than $1,000 of their own money or if total activity of contributions and expenditures is over $1,000. The other candidates in both the school board and City Council races indicated they have not reached those thresholds.
Reports filed with the MEC show that McBride, who marked that he is not a Democrat or Republican but “non-partisan,” has received $1,900 in donations — only $50 of which came from himself and his wife. More than 86 percent of all donations — more than $1,600 — made to McBride’s campaign came from donors whose addresses are listed outside Maryville city limits.
Below are selected verbatim questions and answers from Wednesday night’s candidate forum. Full videos are available on the chamber’s Facebook page: the health board here, and the school board here. The City Council video has not yet been posted.
Maryville R-II Board of Education
Q: What is your main reason for wanting to serve on the school board?
So my main reason is that, those of you that maybe have known me or have seen me have conversations about this, is that for me, it is an incredible belief that I have an obligation to serve my community. This community has poured into our family in ways that I cannot even enumerate.
You know, neither of us are from here: Matt’s a Kansas boy — I don’t hold it too much against him — I’m a Nebraska girl, and we are living a Missouri Compromise here in Maryville. And I believe that our community has poured into our children. Our two oldest children are who they are because of what this community has given them. Our youngest child was a bit of a shock, and he is coming up with a whole village helping raise him — because we’re old and tired — but what my main purpose is, is that I don’t have an agenda.
People who run for school board that have an agenda are the wrong people to run. Because the agenda should be that you have a heartfelt and deep commitment to service to your community. I feel like I have something to offer. I have been blessed richly by my education, by my opportunities, by a school district that has supported my kids, and I feel like if I can give back to that in some way, then that is my main purpose for being here. Membership on a school board is not a political act, it is an act of service. And that’s the most important thing to me, is that I’m allowed to give back and serve the teachers and superintendent and administrators and staff that have given so much to our family.
Thank you for that question. You know, my main reason for running, we have a need to give back and a need to support those that’ve supported us, and this is rich ground to do that in. But I’m invested not only as a small business owner in this community, but my children are here. The most important people in my life are here, and they’re being raised in this district right in front of us.
And I have seen firsthand the benefits that our school district has provided to them and our family — methods of support, encouragement, every time there’s been a need, there has been an amazing teacher that has stepped up and fulfilled that level of need and service. And for that I can’t say thank you enough. And so I hope to be able to continue, not only for my own children, but to serve for every child coming after ours.
I agree with these ladies. Obviously it’s an opportunity to serve. I grew up on a farm with very little. I had wonderful parents, grew up with all brothers. Now I’m raising all daughters — still trying to figure that out.
But when I came here to Maryville 13 or 14 years ago, after graduating and coming back to start my business, I had to go knock on doors and introduce myself to people. It wasn’t the most fun thing to do in the world, but it helped me realize and appreciate how wonderful this community is, and how good people are here. And the community has been great to our family the past 13 years. I’m very appreciative of all that it’s done for us, and I feel it’s an obligation to give back whenever we can.
You know, I have a passion for helping the youth. I could never be a teacher — God bless them, they’re amazing, I couldn’t do that every day — but I do love help coaching the youth, being involved in the youth, and I think it’s important to be an example for the youth, especially my daughters. And one of the best ways to do that is to serve, so I just look forward to that opportunity.
I am running basically because I love kids, I have a passion to watch kids succeed. I love watching kids do great things. One of my favorite things, just because I teach at the high school, is watching them graduate and seeing that success — there’s nothing like that. But for the past 29, 30 years, I’ve driven down that way to that rival school and taught. If you don’t know, I’ve taught at Savannah, and I think probably the best thing about going down there is coming home and being able to drive — there’s something about driving past (a family’s) farm and knowing you’re coming into Maryville and looking, “thank goodness I’m coming back home.”
There’s something special about this place. Walking into Hy-Vee to get a cottage cheese and not walking out with cottage cheese two hours later because you saw everybody, or going to Walmart today and my mom calls three times and asks me what I’m doing for, you know, 45 minutes. My boyfriend does the same thing, he says, “Traci what’re you doing in there?” Well, I don’t know, I’m a politician, I guess, I don’t know, I mean I’m in there doing all kinds of things, I’ve got to talk to everyone. But I love this community, I want to give back to this community, and I have the time to do it, so that’s why I decided to throw my hat in, and I’d appreciate everyone’s vote.
Nodaway County Health Center Board of Trustees
Q: Boards generally have members that serve on other boards — and it sounds like each of you have. How, if in a future situation you have a conflict of interest with the health board or another board or family business or your career in general, would you handle that conflict of interest?
Note: Each candidate who was present at the candidate forum agreed to answer this question again for The Forum via email to address potential conflict of interest issues. Their responses are below in their entirety.
The Missouri Ethics Commission has statutes regarding conflict of interest. Every member of the Nodaway County Health Board is expected to abide by these statutes.
This is in response to your question on conflict of interest. Your email says one person basically did not like our answer Wednesday evening. They wanted more clarification. I am more than happy to further explain my views. I think all of the candidates should have had the question and opportunity to answer though. Voters need to know who they are voting for.
The simple answer is no I do not believe I have a conflict of interest. I have not had livestock for over 10 years. However I am going to help you sell papers and give a more comprehensive answer. I touched on this in the printed questions in the paper. I think boards function best and are of the most value long term for the organization when there is a discussion on the topics at meetings. If all the views are one sided why even have boards?
The conflict of interest question was a subtle way of asking since I am involved in Agriculture how can I be objective on the County Health Board. The same question could be ask of those not in Agriculture about being objective when discussing agriculture issues as it relates to the Health Department. That is a question I have yet to see ask.
It appears the County Health Board has gotten in the regulatory business with the CAFO ordinance they adopted a few years ago. The State of Missouri thought this was not a good idea and passed SB391 It says anything stricter than state standards shall not be used and the DNR is the experts on permitting. There was a lawsuit and a judge recently agreed with the state. The Nodaway County ordinance which is on the Health Board website says the board members are responsible for the inspections and it has to be done every year and a new permit re-issued with a fee of course. Some livestock operations have 15 Million Dollar facilities. It is possible they might not get a permit the second year. One of the other candidates said his daughter worked for the DNR and said there are good livestock systems out there.
Agriculture in Nodaway County is a $200 million entity and is the backbone of economic activity for our County. Businesses and with that employment comes and goes but agriculture does not. We have an outstanding Ag department at NWMSU. After educating our young entrepreneurs the AG students graduate and hope to be productive, pay taxes and the County benefits. We want them to stay around. The Health Ordinance says not in this County.
If Health issues are in question where does the regulatory road end? Will the city/rural water need yearly inspections and permits for odor? One of the leading causes for water pollution and fish kills is city yards and Golf Courses. Is the spraying and fertilizer to be regulated too? What about County sewage treatment plants? City lagoons are more toxic than CAFO lagoons. Some say the higher power 5G cellular is very harmful. Are we taking on the TeleComm industry? At the present time Agriculture is the only one with stringent regulations. One has to ask the question Is that biased?
Does everyone want to be healthy have clean water and air? Absolutely myself included. On our farms dad has been employing soil saving, water quality techniques since the 1960’s and we continue to add more yearly ever since then. I have CRP ground and more to seed down with the pollinator mix and food plots for the bees, butterflies and wildlife. I Scuba dive so I have a very good appreciation of clear clean water and aquatic life.
If the County Health Board wants to have more of a regulatory role I can work within that framework. I think if that is the desire The Board should include representatives from Industry, Municipalities, County Economic Development, Agriculture as well as Health care professionals. Those who are directly affected.
The Health Department does many great things with the funds available. I do not wish to see those programs not funded because the regulatory things start consuming more time and resources. I think the current or previous boards have had good intentions. It t is the unintended things that through board discussions might be minimized.
This was longer than I intended but there are many issues that have to do with Health. If the voters in the County would like balance and experience from my serving for years on other boards then I ask for your vote Tuesday. Thank you.
Needless to say if there is a conflict of interest a person should avoid voting on the issue. If I would have a conflict with the Health Board there should be a discussion concerning the conflict and an amiable conclusion reached. This being said, I don't think there would be any conflicts with the affiliations I currently have.
Q: What skills do you have to help the board in future CAFO discussions or health crises?
Being on several boards. I think I’ve answered that in the paper, if you guys have read. The solution usually lies somewhere in between two extremes. We’ve had, I mean, on several boards we’ve had several things come up that needed solved, and I think that my experience is probably, would be the main thing.
I think being basically in the science field all my teaching life, teaching biology, anatomy and developmental anatomy, and having the experience of a vet school and a med school behind me, hopefully my experience would help in making decisions based on how people react to various problems in the health field.
MARYVILLE, Mo. — While emphasizing that he does not oppose confined animal feeding operations and other forms of industrialized production agr…
So as far as the debates on confinement regulations, being a farm wife, you know I see the agricultural side of things. And agriculture plays a huge role in our economy in Nodaway County. So this should not be taken lightly by our community as we watch Senate Bill 391 progress — it’s been passed and is being challenged, but I feel like I’ve got a good, sound agricultural head to help make evidence-based decisions on that topic as a health board member.
On the health crisis front, and having worked for Eli Lilly and Company in the pharmaceutical industry, I understand studies. I understand evidence, the importance of evidence-based decisions. And as a nurse, I’ve seen an overwhelmed hospital, and as a member of our community I’ve seen burdened business owners. So, I feel I have a good, fair balance there as well as far as helping to make sound decisions. Thank you.
Did you say CAFO? OK, I didn’t hear that down here, I’m sorry. If I could have a second on that.
Yeah like Deb says, Senate Bill 371, it passed, the governor, I mean both legislatures, it passed here a couple years ago. The local health department, as most of you are probably aware, has a more strict guidelines than the health does. It puts the board members as the people in charge of doing the inspections and permitting, and every year, they have to be resubmitted for permitting no matter how much you spent building the operation. Thank you.
My daughter worked at DNR for several years as an inspector for CAFOs. And I have heard some really good stories, I’ve heard some really bad stories. So, with that in mind, I am opposed to … the health department not being able to make some kind of decisions on CAFOs.
Q: What assets do you think the health department has to offer that haven’t been tapped?
Well having attended two meetings so far, I spent some extra time with Tom Patterson, the director of our health center, and learned a lot about what we have to offer. We do blood pressure clinics, have something called Safe Cribs, they help parents learn how to use car seats. We have a plethora of services that the health department offers.
What I don’t think has been tapped into is promoting that in our community. I was unaware of a lot of the services that are available. So what I’d like to see is an increase in marketing of what is available so people know where to turn, they know where to get those services. So that’s what I see. Thank you.
I agree with the previous speaker in that I think all of the services that the health department offers is not widely known to the people of the county. As a past member of the board down at the senior center, I would like to see the health department become much more involved in coming to the senior center, meeting people. And in talking to other administrators of senior centers, I think that their knowledge of what goes on at the health center would be extremely helpful.
Well I’d have to agree with the previous two. There are a lot of programs, I think if you go on their website there’s probably 40 or 50 things listed on the website. A lot of them I didn’t know.
Q: How could the health board increase communication to the community regarding services and health department information?
Love that question. All right, so I’ve thought about that, that’s one of my hopes is to help get the word out there more. And I’ve learned you can put ads on Facebook that strategically targets audiences for a community, an age bracket, male, female — sex. So I think working to get some more information out there on avenues such as that.
Also, at our Department of Social Services, department of senior services, facilities like that where people are going seeking help. I think having posters and information at that level, too, as well as at Northwest, with some of the services that we offer, would help support students out at Northwest. So those are some of the avenues I would begin looking at. And of course there’s, I’m sure, many other options that would pop up as we go down that road. Thank you.
Getting the word out is a little difficult. And, again, I refer back to seniors because I am one. A lot of seniors don’t use social media, so we’ve got to find a different way to get the information out, either in the newspapers — I know there’s a lot of articles that the director of the health center’s put out on COVID. I think there ought to be an expanded, weekly identification of all of the products and services that the center does and take that into account in visiting places, visiting high schools around the county, visiting the senior centers around the county, and just trying to be more and more open with what’s going on. It took me a long time even to figure out where the health center was. So, hopefully if we get more information out, people will know what to do.
I think you’ve got to use all forms of media anymore. Personally I’m not on Facebook much, but I know probably everybody in here is. And, I know from the school side of it last year, we were looking for direction — what to do — from the health department. And I don’t think they know, you know, it was so new to everybody, it was kind of a learning process for everybody.
So, getting the word out is difficult, whether you’ve got a recorded line or something for people if there’s questions, or somebody — a media person, specialist, on the board or in the office or something. I don’t know, just, any of those need to be explored further.
Maryville City Council
Q: How do you think you could help the city in its search to find ways to bridge the current gap that there is in funding the South Main project?
Yeah, so to the best of my knowledge here, we recently, you know, a couple years ago — 2018 — received about a $10 million BUILD grant for that. The city has to contribute for that as well. I think they’ve allocated in the 2021 budget about $1.8 million as the city’s matching grant for that.
But as we’ve recently seen in the paper, those bids have all come back over budget. So, what do you do, accountant — your project’s over budget? Well you either have to find ways to cut that down, or increase the amount of money allocated to it. I really think what we’ll have to first do is go back to the engineers and see what can be done to, you know, accomplish the goal — which is to make that four lanes — but how can we do it in a way that is both economically feasible and able to do on a good timetable — you know, we don’t want to have that section of the town torn up for 3, 6 years. But we do need to get started on it, and the sooner we get started on it, the less likely it is to keep going over budget.
And there may be some things that we’ll have to trim back. I know one thing is that we wanted to bury all the utilities. Well, if the budget doesn’t allow it, we may not be able to bury all the utilities. You know, that would be great, but, we may just have to go back and look at the needs versus the wants of the project and focus on the needs.
I agree with Dannen. I mean, I think we see this all the time happen at Northwest: we have a huge project, like the Hughes Fieldhouse, and it’s really big and it’s really expensive and we raise a lot of money. And we quote it three years ahead of it ever getting constructed, right? So, the price goes up after the three years of dollars raised.
So, you still continue with the project, but you have to pare back. And you decide, what are the priorities? Safety’s going to be a priority here, functionality’s going to be a priority here. And then maybe you have a second phase of trying to do the beautification that you’re trying to do, because what I don’t want us to do is blow all of our budget on, you know, these things to make it happen when that would hurt our infrastructure budget somewhere else — you know, those sort of things. So I think we have to be smart, and maybe it can be a phased approached. Because I really think what the project offers is great, it just might take a little more time to get everything that we’re wanting.
Obviously one of the battles that any project like this, or at this scale, is facing right now I think we’ve seen — I work in logistics, and the last three months we’ve seen the cost of just about everything go through the roof. From building materials to trucking, and trucking is kind of key in what I do, because building materials, they come on trucks, generally.
That being said, I am not a huge beautification person. I guess my heart lies more in infrastructure and foundation. I would have to agree with Ashlee and Dannen both that I think there’s probably places you could trim back, that have to be trimmed back. I think Dannen said at one point 1.8, but I think it was between $1.8 and $2 million, or $2.1 million that we would have to contribute as a city. And just to kind of give you something to frame that around, I think, what I was told for the, just like our road maintenance, our annual maintenance for roads and upkeep, was about $250,000. So, $2.1 million versus $250,000, I think that could be allocated better, so I think we definitely need to pare down the budget somehow for that project.
Q: A large number of our business owners that sit in the Maryville city limits live outside of the city limits, which disqualifies them from being a part of advisory boards to the city and running for public office in our city. This has been an ongoing conversation as many of them feel that their businesses pay taxes and should receive representation on those advisory boards. How would you as a City Councilor address the concerns of the business owners in this regard?
I own a business here in Maryville, I have a partner in that. I advise many businesses that work in Maryville and Nodaway County. I think the most important thing to do is to be able to listen to those people that may have issues with how their tax dollars are being spent when they don’t have the ability to vote in the elections or sit on those advisory boards.
I also think it’s in their obligation to make sure that they’re reaching out to those people and are heard if they have issues. And if they have something constructive to bring to the table, I’m sure that everyone that’s on that advisory board would be willing to listen to what they have to say, and if they’re not, and I’m serving on the council, come to me and I’ll listen, and I’ll make sure that the message gets put across.
But I don’t know that there’s an answer to giving the right to vote in local elections. It’s not the City Council’s decision to make. We don’t decide who votes in these.
That is a really good question, because there’s people that literally live within eyesight of downtown, have businesses here, or live just outside what’s considered city limits, but don’t have a voice. I don’t know what we could do as a City Council to change that, but I would be 100 percent for changing that.
My opinion is that if Mozingo and the surrounding area is considered Maryville city limits — you know, two blocks from my house north of Casey’s, the people that live there should have a voice in our elections, be able to run for office, and have a say in what goes on in our community.
Yeah, I mean, I think if they own a business and they want to serve on a committee, let them serve on the committee. That’s insane. What a goofy rule. And if you’re willing to step up and serve, bring it on, we need more people to step up and serve.
I think as far as the voting goes, you know, I don’t know how we look at the lines of town and decide what is and what isn’t. I’m sure that’s a subject I’m not familiar with, but I’d love to learn. We can talk about it, we can look into it, because I do agree, if you’re a couple houses over but you’re still real close to everybody, it makes sense to have your voice heard and your votes heard. I’m a big includer, so I think it’s just important to do that.
Q: After a summer of racial turmoil both in our nation and our state that resulted in a protest in our community, there has been a huge emphasis on diversity and inclusion as well as social justice. Can each candidate take a moment to explain how they will influence diversity and inclusion in the Maryville community?
I guess I don’t know how I can have a huge influence outside of just voicing where I stand. I actually grew up in Virginia Beach, Virginia, before moving out here — a very diverse school system. It was the largest school system in the state of Virginia, great-run school system. I was actually a minority in that system, so, all my friends were of different races and creeds. I spent time in the military, so you work with people from all different countries, all different walks, all different backgrounds.
I think as long as we keep that in our minds as City Council members and share that message with the community, I honestly feel — I’ve lived in a lot of places throughout my life, I mean some of it just traveling as far as in the military and whatnot — Maryville is a very diverse community, it really is. I mean, for a small town in northwest Missouri, it’s very diverse.
You know, I would just have to echo what John said a little bit there. I am from Maryville, though, I grew up here. You know, going to the school district here, it wasn’t very diverse, as anyone who’s grown up here knows that. But, attending Northwest, that totally changed things. You know, never would I have thought I’d have the chance to attend a dinner with a bunch of international students and eat their native food. You know, that’s been really great. … So that opens the city up to a lot. But just being open and being willing to listen I think is the main starting point and finding common ground with individuals is where we can advance.
MARYVILLE, Mo. — What does diversity and inclusion look like to you in the Maryville community?
For me, the peaceful protests this summer was a start — and I think it was a great start. I think where we could go from here is offer microaggressions training, implicit bias training with using the university as a resource for people who are willing to embark in that.
I also think we need some more inclusion on our boards and groups, and bringing those people in. I had someone tell me the other day they didn’t want to buy a house here because they’d been treated so poorly with the racism in this town. We’re losing people. We’re not growing because of people treating them poorly. We need to get them involved with people who will treat them good.
So, I just think we’ve got major work to do, but it starts with conversation. It starts with conversation and learning.
Q: If and when you are elected to City Council, how will you address future criticism aimed at city staff both on social media and in concerns brought to you as a council member?
I’m not trying to say that a communications person is the end-all, be-all, but I do think it gets us somewhere. You know, (City Manager) Greg (McDanel) can’t spend all of his time, (City Clerk) Stacy (Wood), (administrative assistant) Heather (Griffith), can’t spend all their time fielding all of the bashing on Facebook. They’ve got jobs to do.
Let’s hire someone to do that, to put out messaging: “Here’s what the city’s working on, I’m going to field questions, I’m going to answer those questions.” If it’s a big issue, let’s have a listening session to hear from the community and talk things out. I think it would’ve been useful to do that on masks to gauge where everybody was. You know, it’s just so important to have a conversation. Conversation gets more things solved and going.
MARYVILLE, Mo. — Misinformation pervaded discussions of the most important issues that will face residents this year at another well-attended …
I think conversation is key, I also think being able to sit across from someone and talk about your issues is also the key. I think, you know, like I said earlier, being able to hide behind the keyboard and the screen has emboldened people. I think if you had to go have this conversation about the issues you’re facing on your street or in your neighborhood with city staff or council face-to-face, you’d probably arrive at a conclusion or workable agreement a lot sooner.
So I think, you know, and that one’s both sides. One, the city being available for that, and two, citizens being willing to go and do that. So I think that’s really the key.
And also, you know, it would be great to have a public information officer for the city, I think they could help field a lot, maybe take all those face-to-face meetings or a number of them and work through that, especially during a time of crisis like we’ve had this last year.
I’ve got to watch the clock, because as my wife will tell you, I ramble. Occasionally.
One of the things I’ve kind of endeavored to do if put on the City Council is to keep my actual candidate page open strictly for public interaction and communication, dialogue. If people have questions, be able to come directly to us. Like Dannen said, obviously you can’t beat face-to-face conversation, but the question was regarding social media, so, you know, for me, that’s kind of a no-brainer: I want to keep that account open, I want to communicate what’s going on in the City Council meetings to the people, whether it be through a, you know, biweekly blog or whatever it is, but just keep the ability for people to communicate with you open. Don’t shut it down, keep that dialogue going. Because it’s all about we the people, and that’s who we’re supposed to be representing.