Incumbent Tom Van Camp says he can point to various successes and good trends for Independence in recent years.
His two opponents in next month's City Council District 4 primary, Chris Heitzman and Dan Hobart, say they can provide a better voice for the district and help move the city in some different directions.
The three candidates tackled a variety of questions from the audience in Tuesday's forum at the Mid-Continent Public Library South Independence Branch.
Van Camp said the city has the processes in place to build job opportunities and development, as well as reverse the revenue-cost gap in the city's general fund, and he has helped work to lower electric rates
“We need to keep looking,” he said. “We are open for business. To me, it's not such a dour picture.
“Our city staff is working all the time on the budget, including now, and the city manager system has done well for us. I believe we will overcome it; we've overcome larger deficits.”
Heitzman, a warehouse supervisor who has served on the storm water sales tax oversight committee, said the city needs to cut out frivolous spending and focus on cost-effective projects that involve citizen input.
“Nothing economically is working in the city,” he said. “We've got to find a place for an industrial park and get good-paying jobs.”
“Spend less, make more; eat less, work out more,” Hobart said, poking fun at his own figure and saying it's not a simple solution. But in general, the private practice attorney said, the city must find a way to be more attractive for industries and development “and make sure the belt is tightened appropriately.”
“Business as usual is not an option anymore,” he said, adding that development done right will help schools, as well.
Van Camp defended his decisions with a pair of projects that reportedly have been the subject of an FBI investigation – the solar farm at part of the former Rockwood golf course and tearing down the Missouri City power plant.
The city avoided low-income housing in the area, ratepayers voluntarily pay a higher rate for solar and keep it from being a money loser, Van Camp said, and the higher bidding company for the Missouri City project offered better long-term security for the city at still below the original estimate, he said.
“I'm proud of what we've done at Rockwood,” he said.
Heitzman said both exemplified frivolous spending, and when the solar farm lease is up he would propose taking out the solar panels, which he said will cost the city millions long term. It would be best kept as green space, he said.
Hobart said the former golf course had been green space and the city has already spent too much on that land. With Missouri City, he said, “There's no excuse for what happened,” and now it's helped lead to the FBI inquiry.
“I will not be investigated by the FBI,” Hobart simply said, when asked how he would restore integrity to the council.
Heitzman promised honesty, transparency and response to citizens.
“Everybody knows there is a confidential FBI investigation,” Van Camp said. “I don't think there's anything I can say that would be helpful or appropriate.”
One district-specific question regarded storm drainage affecting private residences, particularly in the Manor Oaks neighborhood.
Van Camp said the city is working on a plan for that, there are several legacy areas of infrastructure that need some work beyond what the city should do.
Hobart it's a question of who's responsible, but the city can't simply let residents fend for themselves.
“What's the long-term plan here,” he said.
Heitzman said the city should be responsible, but “It boils down to if there's enough tax funds in the system.”
On street sweeping and litter removal, particularly along U.S. 40, Heitzman said the city has had poor direction; Van Camp countered that the city's work has been efficient and encouraged citizens to call in with concerns; and Hobart said a big issue is that the city's boundary there with Kansas City “looks like monster teeth” and requires more cooperation.
On benches at bus stops, Van Camp said the city also has some future plans there, and Hobart approved the idea if feasible.
“People deserve to be out of the weather,” Van Camp said. “It beautifies things if we do it right.”
Heitzman said he would not be in favor, as he said they would attract vagrants and transients, whom he said the city needs to get rid of.
The city can help the homeless, and hopefully have a facility that helps those with mental health issues and can find gainful employment, Heitzman said.
Hobart and Van Camp agreed that dealing with the homeless population has no easy solution and requires a community effort.
“You're asking a question that nobody else in the world has solved,” Hobart said. “I've defended some homeless people. They should be treated fairly and humanely.”
“Where do you separate these people,” Van Camp asked, referring to homeless, vagrants and transients. “We need to work together; we have many community groups.”
There seem to be resources to help feed them, Van Camp said, but housing is another matter.
While Van Camp helped citizens overturn the decision by other council members on “smart meters” for city utilities, he said that particular deal was bad for the city. Meters will have to be replaced eventually, he said, and digital utility meters can still be a good thing.
Heitzman said the overturned deal had been bad and that he favors smart water meters in the future. Hobart said going to smart meters make economic sense for the city, and health concerns with them should be no more than a microwave or cell phone.
“Independence needs to get into the habit of doing best practices,” he said. “It will help IPL, and it will help all of us.”