JOPLIN, Mo. —
Candidates for Joplin City Council seats answered questions at a televised forum Monday night on whether they support a downtown performing arts area, when they would choose to end the contract with the master development firm and whether they believe recent council turmoil is driving away potential developers.
About 95 people attended the forum in Corley Auditorium at Missouri Southern State University. It was broadcast live on KGCS-TV and will be repeated at various times until the April 8 election.
In response to the question about whether council turmoil has affected redevelopment, incumbent Mike Seibert of Zone 4 said it has. “I am concerned a developer comes through the city one time, and if there are issues, that development will not come to Joplin,” he said. “We’ve got to get our act together. We’ve got to show leadership. We’ve got to move forward.”
His opponent in Zone 4, Jack Golden, said: “We had two council people not very long ago state that the removal of our city manager caused people not to come here. Yet the Chamber of Commerce reports state just the opposite.” He said the city staff needed to be protected from the ramifications of a City Council investigation report that was followed by the firing of City Manager Mark Rohr. “We need to speak about this honestly. We need not to duck our head in the water and say these guys or these guys or these gals caused this problem. They didn’t cause the problem. They reacted to the problem.” He said it is a difficult decision to fire anyone.
There are six candidates for three general seats. They are incumbents Trisha Raney and Mike Woolston, and challengers Harvey Hutchinson, Miranda Lewis, Ryan Stanley and Jim West. They and Gary Shaw, the incumbent in Zone 1, also answered questions at the forum. Golden currently holds a general seat but is running for the Zone 4 seat.
They answered questions from a panel composed of the Globe’s Wally Kennedy and Andra Stefanoni, Lisa Olliges of KOAM-TV, and Katrina Richards, a member of Young Professionals Network of the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce.
Asked by Kennedy whether they support the SPARK proposal, all but one of the candidates said they do, though some qualified their answers. SPARK — Stimulating Progress through Arts, Recreation and Knowledge of the past — is a cultural and performing arts center proposed for downtown.
Hutchinson said he does not see it going in next to the existing Kansas City Southern railroad line. West said he is “cautious” about the location and wants careful consideration of how to finance the project.
Readers of the Globe asked via Facebook and Stefanoni whether the candidates support the city’s tax increment financing district for disaster recovery, and if they would make any changes.
Raney said she voted against approving the TIF district because it encompasses such a large area and she did not think it was necessary to spur redevelopment. Golden said he was concerned about the effect it would have on school district revenue.
Olliges asked the candidates whether they would vote to end the contract with Wallace Bajjali Development Partners as the city’s contracted master developer. There were mixed responses.
Golden said projects were announced that have not come through.
Hutchinson said he is “very disappointed” with the results of the master developer, and questioned why the public library should be moved from downtown.
West said the plans by the master developer were good, “but I’m concerned we haven’t seen a lot done.”
Lewis said she does not think now is the time to end the contract. “We need to set expectations,” she said. “They show us what they have done, and we make sure we hold them accountable for those projects.”
Raney said she understands there is some frustration among some residents, but that she was on the city team that went to Waco, Texas, to look into the background of the firm and its work in that city. City leaders there rated the firm as a 9 on a scale of 1 to 10 for honesty and results, she said. “I know we’ve had some frustration, but it’s taken some time to get financing and land” for the projects, she said.
Stanley and Shaw said the firm has shown the City Council that the firm is on time with the progress of its work.
Woolston said he thinks “we are about where we should be” with the work. Both he and Seibert said it took time to line up the land and financing tools to build the projects.
After the forum, resident Jon Hook said: “I think it went really well. They made a lot of valid points but seemed to dodge some.” He said he thought there should have been more discussion of the firing of Rohr and how the city could fix problems surrounding his firing.
Christina Finke, 24, said she was interested to see young people as candidates and that some want to make Joplin a destination city with attractions and activities.
“It was good to see them responding in person,” she said. “But, I would like to see harder questions with more straight answers.”
Resident Bill Pate said, “I have a clearer idea of the candidates’ communication styles and some of the issues the candidates are interested in.”
THE FORUM WAS PRESENTED by KGCS-TV and The Joplin Globe, with the help of sponsors Empire District Electric Co., Wilhite Signs and Freeman Health System.