Sugar Creek voters face several choices

By Mike Genet mike.genet@examiner.net
The Examiner

Sugar Creek citizens will be voting for mayor, city marshal and two Board of Aldermen seats in next Tuesday's election, though one board seat is uncontested. In the other three races, the incumbent seeks re-election.

Mayor Mike Larson, who defeated predecessor Matt Mallinson in 2017, is seeking a second term. He will be opposed by Geoffrey Jay. 

Chris Soule aims to remain as city marshal, or chief of police, for a second four-year term, opposed by police Sgt. Tom Butkovich. 

Ward 1 Alderman Chuck Mikulich is opposed by Nancy Griego, and Joi Hazelrigg is unopposed for the Ward 2 seat that has been occupied by Stanley Sagehorn, a board member for more than 20 years who decided not to run again.

Mayor

Larson, a longtime teacher and coach who now runs his own small lawn service, said when he first became mayor he simply wanted a “chance to see if we can get something done,” and he says Pat Casey, the former fire chief who took over as city administrator a couple years ago, has been crucial in “getting the balls rolling” on many things around the city.

Among the things Larson points to in recent years:

• Plenty of fill has gone in for the long-stalled and much-maligned U.S. 24 and Sterling Avenue area, with hopefully a relocated Taco Bell under construction in the summer.

• Getting the storm drain underneath U.S. 24 unclogged on the Sugar Creek side.

• The old post office building has been sold for a private business.

• A thrift store is moving into the old laundromat on U.S. 24.

Larson also started an e-blast for bits of city news and was able to get Board of Alderman minutes posted in the monthly newsletter to help keep citizens abreast of board events.

Among future priorities, he said, are filling the remodeled Sugar Creek Gymnasium with year-round activities and programming, getting the sewer system project back on schedule and finished and, as always, trying to attract new rooftops for young people and new businesses. 

“We’ve accomplished a lot of things,” Larson said. “I think we’ve made a ton of progress, and think it’s worth another shot, but we’ll see.”

“There’s always more that can be done.”

Jay, who moved to Sugar Creek in 2017 after his work brought him to the metro area, said Sugar Creek reminds him of his hometown in Maryland.

“It grew by people being involved,” said Jay, an environmental scientist who is vice president and director of the Sugar Creek Downtown Organization. He said he remembers being involved in volunteer work since the age of 7 and believes the town needs a more clear, forward-thinking vision rather than the little, way-it’s always-been-done approach that he sees.

“I’m seeing there’s a lot of potential for the town, and it’s not being used,” Jay said. “It’s needed some outside eyes. We need people to come to Sugar Creek – not just citizens but visitors.”

A city master plan would be helpful, he said, and he would hope to build the number and variety of volunteers who help with civic functions.

City marshal

In Sugar Creek, the city marshal is summarily hired as chief of police. Soul was first appointed in early 2015 to fill out the term of his uncle, longtime chief Herb Soul. He defeated former Sugar Creek officer Jerry Garcia for election in 2017 and now faces a challenge from Butkovich, a police officer since 2008 and with Sugar Creek since 2016.

Butkovich says to aims to improve staff morale and turnover, the latter particularly among dispatchers, and says Soule isn’t as dedicated to the job as he could be

“It’s enough that I’m willing to put my job on the line,” Butkovich said. “I don’t know how to make everybody happy, but I know to sit down and talk.”

Butkovich said that since 2017, there have been 19 staff changes among dispatchers, and fully staffed that department is six. Pay is a factor, he acknowledges, but also “I think we can train them better.”

Butkovich said he also hopes to add a social worker to the department to handle some instances in which an officer has secured the scene but can’t immediately follow up on the issue at hand because it more involves social services. Such a position can be covered by grants, he said.

“I don’t know how many times, I’ve been called to a house over and over, and there’s nothing police can do,” he said. “Once an officer makes sure it’s safe, then the social worker can take the case, and it frees up the officer.”

Soul insisted that he is dedicated to the community and that there’s still more he wants to do as chief. He pointed out that officers and dispatchers have received pay increases greater than 20 percent during his recent term, even though he as chief doesn’t have much control over that.

Dispatcher turnover rate is high everywhere, he said, acknowledging that it’s a stressful position and some people simply aren’t cut out for the job. Of those 19 instances Butkovich referenced, Soule said maybe four or five were lost due to pay, two of whom came back, and 11 never made it through the training period.

“I love this community, and I’m not done; I’m still young,” said Soule, who has been with the police department for 26 years. “Our department has made great strides.”

“I’m not going to speculate why he decided to run,” the chief said of his opponent. “He didn’t ask me; I didn’t ask him.”

Both candidates said one always tries to lower crime, no matter the previous numbers, and Soule noted that assaults, robberies, burglaries, weapons arrest and drugs arrests all were down last year from the year before. 

“We need to work a little more with our businesses and our citizens,” the chief said. “We have tried to get a neighborhood watch going, and we do have a full-time community resource officer (in the local schools).

“My numbers don’t lie,” Soule said about crime going down in 2020, a sign of support and cooperation in the community, he believes. “The patrol is doing its job.”