As the primary election for the City Council Fourth District nears, Josh Crocker, Laura Dominik, Tom Van Camp and Tim Watkins gave voters in attendance at Trails West Library a glance at their views on various issues during a 50-minute forum Thursday.
The four candidates are vying for the seat left vacant when Eileen Weir was elected in April as mayor of Independence. The top two vote-getters advance to November’s general election.
Candidates were limited to one-minute responses to questions, and they received two minutes to make a closing statement. The event, organized by the League of Women Voters and moderated by Examiner staff member Jeff Fox, filled most available seats in the library’s meeting room.
Among the first questions was how they would aid in raising property values.
Crocker advocated neighborhood watch groups, as well as forming groups, possibly students, that could clean up properties where the elderly or disabled reside. Earlier, he had touted the success of Nextdoor.com as a crime deterrent in the area.
Like Crocker, Dominik asserted the need to maintain a strong school district, and she said federal funds and organizations like Habitat for Humanity can be utilized to improve properties.
Van Camp, citing his previous work as an appraiser, said he knows “it’s very important that houses have curb appeal, and parks too. They need to be maintained.”
Watkins noted that “it takes a whole community to make this happen.”
When asked if advocating an increased or new program would meaning cuts somewhere else or higher taxes, all four advocated regular assessments or audits for departments.
“If there’s fat to be cut,” Watkins said, “that’s where it comes from.”
Crocker also mentioned finding possible areas of “fat” and voiced his displeasure with the idea of more taxes.
“I don’t believe any new taxes need to be done,” he said. “You’re going to push new citizens out of here.”
Van Camp cautioned against having definite ideas without prior scrutiny.
“Every year you go through the process, you reassess,” he said. “To say you would do this (beforehand) wouldn’t be appropriate.”
All four gave some measure of support for the council’s resolution for some commitment to renewable energy, and they added it will take plenty of examination and discussion going forward.
“What does it cost you? What does it cost your grandchildren?” Van Camp said. “This is a two-fold plan.”
“If you cut a source, you’re going to be buying energy from somewhere else, and who pays for it?” Crocker warned, adding that he believes solar panels could have a good future in Independence. “I fear a pay hike (for electricity). I fear for you guys.”
In answering a follow-up question about whether they believed electricity costs are deterring possible new businesses from Independence, Crocker talked of how he encounters area businesses every day during his delivery job.
“For many the prices are overwhelming for them,” he said. “It scares them, and it scares me. If there’s not businesses, I lose business.”
“It does have an impact,” Watkins said, “especially with small businesses, but there’s many other factors.”
Candidates were asked how they would fit in the so-called “new-look council,” which added two new members in April in addition to Weir taking over the position formerly held by Don Reimal.
Crocker noted that he would be the young one, but “with my progressive attitude, my support for City Council and my passion for the city, I would fit in real good,” he said.
Watkins joked that he would be ugliest face, but somebody has to be that one.
“It’s an exciting situation,” he said. “There’s new faces, new thoughts, new ideas, and I think I would work well. There’s more potential for development and redevelopment than we’ve had in a long time.”
Dominik said the Council is building a good team to move things forward in the city and she would bring good perspectives with her accounting and public safety backgrounds.
Van Camp said that regardless of incumbent or new faces, “I will work just as hard with anybody who is there.”
In regard to suggested changes in staffing or funding for the police department, Dominik and Crocker both emphasized the need to maintain the public safety sales tax.
“I know they have a lot of needs,” said Dominik, who like Watkins has served on the public safety services committee. “The crime rankings indicate we need more patrol, but there also is the infrastructure.”
Crocker called the ranking a “farce,” saying that while he wouldn’t change anything big with the police department, he believes that visible patrols serve as a good crime deterrent.
Watkins said there is a lack in patrol and investigations.
“How do you fill that? Do you cut some from the top to fill the bottom?” he asked rhetorically, adding that the matter definitely needs more study.
“Every year we need to look at what they need,” Van Camp said. “They know that they need. It can be hard to add, but you can maintain it.”
In closing, Watkins emphasized that he would be active in the community regardless of whether he’s elected.
“The citizens should take priority over city hall and anything else,” he said, adding that he’s not afraid to disagree with people but can also gain new perspectives through those disagreements.
Crocker stated his belief in the importance of education and the need to help maintain a good school district.
“I stress (education) with my family, and I will stress that with Council,” he said. “I want to bring safety and security to Noland Road and safety and security back to the community. I believe the city can reach out and find businesses.”
“I believe we have all kinds of opportunities and are on the precipice of great things,” Dominik said. “I’m not a career politician; I just want to represent the 4th District. We can do more as a whole than individually.”
Van Camp, giving the perspective of one who has lived in Independence longer than any other candidate, said he was honored to be part of the forum.
“The community, on Aug. 5, will benefit from whoever wins,” he said.