OSAWATOMIE — Osawatomie voters learned more about School Board, City Council and mayoral candidates during a forum that took place Thursday, Oct. 7, at the Osawatomie High School auditorium.
The event was sponsored by the Osawatomie Chamber of Commerce and moderated by Dr. Kristin Feeback, superintendent of the Osawatomie State Hospital.
The first half of the evening was dedicated to Osawatomie School Board candidates, while the second half featured Oswatomie City Council and mayoral candidates.
School Board candidates in attendance included Kristal Powell and Connie Hebert (Position 1), Jeff Dorsett and Kelly Daggett (Position 4), Heather Poage and Richard Fisher (Position 5) and Marsha Adams and Shay Hanysak (Position 6). Gordon Schrader (Position 5) was unable to attend because he was home recovering from COVID.
Mayoral candidates in attendance were Mark Govea and Nick Hampson. City Council candidates in attendance were Kenny Diehm and Brant Johnson (Ward 1), Dale Bratton (Ward 3) and Tammy Filipin (Ward 4). Not in attendance were Kirk Wright and Jon-Michael Brand (Ward 2) and Jeffrey Walmann and Daniel West (Ward 3).
The following is a brief recap of the stances taken by each candidate and their responses to questions asked by Feeback.
Osawatomie School Board
When asked about discussing school board topics on social media, Powell said you should keep your personal business to yourself. She said the school board’s main priority should be being supportive of parents, teachers and administrators. She also said school board members need to be willing to listen to parents and residents. Powell said being on the school board is important to her, especially since she has children in the school district. She added that she has learned a lot during her time on the board.
Hebert said she recently moved to the area from Los Angeles, Calif., and is passionate about literacy. Regarding social media, she also said it’s not appropriate for a school board member to post anything confidential. She said the top priority for the school board should be to listen. “There are a lot of people who are talking, and it seems like no one is listening,” she said. She also said she’d like to expand college prep classes in addition to expanding trade opportunities. Hebert said the school board should lay a fair and equitable foundation for the school district.
Dorsett, who is a doctor, said he is retiring in February and plans to spend the next several years working to make Osawatomie better. He said his experience on the school board is valuable because it takes at least two years just to learn the budget process. He also said all of the COVID-related regulations he has supported come directly from the recommendations of health experts. “Masks are not the problem, the pandemic is the problem,” he said. Dorsett said his focus over the years has shifted from wanting the district to be the best in college prep to now wanting to focus on life experiences and business partnerships to offer high school students. Dorsett said the pandemic has “sucked” but it’s important now to look past it and try to improve the morale of teachers. He said there has been too much micromanaging on the school board.
Daggett said she is very involved with Scouts in the community. “I love this little town,” she said. Daggett said she hears a lot of complaints about the school district from parents in Scouts. She said they don’t like the fact that programs have been dropped without communication, such as the Watch Dogs program at the elementary school. “They don’t feel like they have a voice,” she said. Daggett said the high school is on the right track with technical opportunities like cabinetry and metal working, but she would like to see more partnerships with local businesses offering more opportunities. She applauded the closeness of Osawatomie. “I’ve never seen a small town before that comes together like we do,” she said.
Poage said she would like to give back to the community by serving on the school board, and she has a very open mind. She said one of her strengths is working well on a team. “I advocate for people, and I’m not afraid to speak up,” she said. Poage said she would like to see the school district continue to offer more vocational training.
Richard Fisher said his prior experience on the school board from 2008 to 2016 and his career as an attorney would be assets he would bring to the school board. He said his big priorities are transparency and accountability. He said the school board has taken a hands-off approach, and he also would like to see board members actually talk with parents who speak at school board meetings instead of remaining silent. “I’m a strong advocate for accountability, integrity and not more complacency,” Fisher said.
Hanysak said she has experience as a consultant and a manager and is not afraid to voice her opinion. She also has worked locally at the Ozone, library and rec commission. Regarding the school district’s pandemic and mask policies, Hanysak said the school district should open it up for better discussion and evaluate what is right for this particular district. Hanysak said she loves working on a team, and she also doesn’t mind overseeing a project. She said she would take her school board role seriously if elected. “I’m committed,” she said. “I make time for the things that are a priority to me.”
Adams said she owns a business in Osawatomie and her daughter recently moved back as well. “I care about this community and the education of our children,” Adams said. She said COVID has been the hardest thing the board has ever had to go through, and she said the priority for her has been keeping kids in school because the statistics show more kids were failing last year with remote learning. She also said protecting students has to be the main focus. She also praised the district’s current vocational offerings.
Govea said the city has so many good things going on right now regarding infrastructure and economic development, and he has developed a number of positive working relationships during his time as mayor, he asked voters to give him one more term, which would be two more years as mayor. Govea said the learning curve can be a difficult one for the mayor position, and he doesn’t think now is a good time for a change because of all of the ongoing projects. Govea said his biggest strength is his experience, including the fact that he previously oversaw a $9 million budget with Kansas City Parks and Recreation.
Hampson said, unlike Govea, he’s looking to serve several more years as mayor. He also said he believes his experience serving on the City Council would make the mayoral transition an easy one. Hampson said he has been on the council for nine years, and he has also volunteered in a number of areas, including PRIDE committee, Rotary and more. “Osawatomie has always been home and it will always be home,” he said.
Osawatomie City Council
Diehm, who worked for the city for 40 years, says he is familiar with the projects that need to get done, including work on the water plant. He also said street improvements need to continue to be a priority. “We need to get them replaced or repaired,” he said. Diehm said he will work to listen to everybody. “We need to make decisions not only from those who yell the loudest but also those who are quiet, which means we have to listen,” he said.
Johnson said cleaning up the city will be a priority for him. He mentioned the poor conditions of the parks and cemeteries, as well as the areas around the ballparks, which he said aren’t mowed enough. “Ever since the school district took over the ballparks from the city, it’s been horrible,” he said. Johnson also said he would work to reduce the tax burden on residents. He also said the rental properties in town need to be cleaned up. Fixing up the downtown buildings would also help attract new business and encourage growth, he said.
Bratton said he is a single dad who is looking to reduce the tax burden on Osawatomie residents. He said the ongoing projects, including the OZ Commons downtown redevelopment project, will require leaders who have an open mind and good problem solving skills, which he believes are his strengths. He said economic development needs to be a priority. “This town has got to get people here to shop and spend money,” he said. “That’s the only way this town is going to survive.” Bratton said the near future may be difficult for residents, but he sees a bright long-term future for Osawatomie. “I think the next 10 years will be somewhat painful for citizens, but I think we need to keep selling that there is light at the end of the tunnel,” Bratton said.
Filipin said she works for the school district and is heavily involved in the community, helping out in areas such as the community garden and friends of the library. “I’m a big supporter of volunteerism,” she said. When asked what she would like to see in the Oz Commons final plan, Filipin said she would like to see improvements to John Brown Park in addition to downtown. Filipin said she has experience from the planning and zoning committee that she believes would make her an asset on the council. “I would love to be a part of the growth and improvement of Osawatomie,” she said.