Bob Hummel, of Kiowa, is concerned about protecting private property rights.
Dottie Witkop, of Parker, hopes that the new commissioners will support county employees.
Eric Whitman, of Kiowa, is still undecided about who will receive his primary vote.
Republican Laurie Duke was glad to see the two democrat candidates included in the debate.
Democrat Tia Jones liked what she heard at the debate, but is still not sure which candidate is right for her.
Start with six candidates from two parties, add around 130 county voters from three or more parties, and stir with two moderators: The result was, the Kiowa Community Church Fellowship Hall crackled with ideas and energy on May 24.
In the only debate before the Republican primary on June 28, Elbert County commissioner candidates from both parties, two Republicans and one Democrat running for District I seats and two Republicans and one Democrat running for District III, faced off in a debate over the future of Elbert County.
The candidates are: District I, Republicans Christopher Richardson and James Whistler and Democrat Marie Soderberg; District III, Republicans Grant Thayer and Scott Wills and Democrat Barbara Miller.
Moderators Jerry Bishop (Prairie Times) and Beth Shelly (Ranchland News) asked questions of the six candidates centering on transparency, growth, water, and oil and gas.
As expected, the current state of county government was a topic, specifically the infamous November 18 Board of County Commissioners meeting where county employees and several elected officials staged a revolt over a resolution to invoke a contractual precursor to the potential termination of County Attorney Wade Gateley.
It has been more than six months since the clashes in November, but the incident remains very much on the minds of people on both sides of the issue, and the atmosphere in the Kiowa remains toxic.
In addition, debate participants were also asked to contribute $200 for hot dogs from Charlie’s New York Hot Dogs in Elizabeth to feed the spectators during a break. The remaining $418.85 plus $160.85 contributed by the Prairie Times staff is pledged to benefit Kiowa businesswoman Leanne Goetz, who was recently diagnosed with cancer.
District I candidate Soderberg offered her own brand of help for Goetz during her closing comments by commandeering the hat from an audience member, and asking those in attendance to add what they could to the “offering plate.”
The 10-minute, impromptu fundraiser netted an additional $410, bringing the total to around $1,000.
Following the debate, Elbert County News caught up with voters from around the area to hear their comments about the most important issues facing the county, the current state of county government, and the candidate who best addressed their concerns.
Laurie Duke, Elizabeth (R):
On the biggest issue facing Elbert County: “Economic development. I think we need to find more revenue to serve the people as we go forward to the next decade or so. We have a lot of needs out there. Obviously, roads are a big issue.”
On the current state of Elbert County government: “Obviously, there is a lot of turmoil, a lot of distrust in people. I think there’s been a lot of cronyism going on. It seems to me that there are just a couple of people who are really running the county and not listening to the other commissioners.”
When asked about a candidate who addressed her concerns: “Based on the performance of the candidates at the debate, I would vote for Grant Thayer (R); I think he brought something new to the table. I think he showed a lot of depth of knowledge, care, and enthusiasm for the job.
“I also would vote for Jim Whistler. I thought he did a great job, a lot of research, and he’d done his homework.
“I felt the other two Republican candidates were unprepared, or just sort of resting on their laurels, being part of the old guard, and that kind of worries me too, the entrenchment and the cronyism in the county government.
“The Democrats have had stronger candidates in the past, but I’m glad they were able to come to the debate and talk. A lot of times, the Democrats have not even had a voice in this Republican-dominated county. Even though I’m a Republican, I do like to listen to the other side.”
Bob Hummel, Kiowa (R):
On the biggest issue facing Elbert County: “Protecting individual property rights and government services to protect those rights.”
On the current state of Elbert County government: “Having moved here because Elbert County is the way it is, I’d like it to be kept the way it is. The governance of Elbert County has met the needs, but it needs to advance and adapt to the future. They need to have a revenue base that’s sustainable, and they also need to maintain the environment that’s here.”
When asked about a candidate who addressed his concerns: “There were two, Chris Richardson and Scott Wills. They are in it for residents of the county of Elbert rather than some personal gain or some other agenda.”
Eric Whitman, Kiowa (R):
On the biggest issue facing Elbert County: “Trying to manage the growth correctly and smart. Also, to make sure the county benefits from this growth, and the impact is managed correctly.
On the current state of Elbert County government: “Terrible. It starts at the top. There’s a reason why the other elected officials asked for the resignation (of Commissioners Kelly Dore and Larry Ross). It wasn’t just because they came up and all the sudden decided, well, this is what they wanted to do.
“They were dysfunctional and even within the three of them (commissioners) they couldn’t agree on anything and they made everybody else’s life miserable.”
When asked about a candidate who addressed his concerns - “I liked a lot of what Chris (Richardson) has to say, Scott (Wills) and Grant Thayer. I’m still up in the air as far as which one, Scott or Grant, I’m going to vote for.”
Tia Jones, Parker (D):
On the biggest issue facing Elbert County: “Money. Not having enough money to maintain roads and do the things that we need to do to keep our county functional for the citizens.”
On the current state of Elbert County government: “I feel like we need to improve it. I don’t feel educated enough to say exactly how. I feel like I’m in the process of getting myself educated on where we are falling short, but I do absolutely feel like there are improvements that need to be made.”
When asked about a candidate who addressed her concerns: “I’m especially happy to hear a couple of the candidates talk about bringing more businesses into Elbert County and finding ways to attract the younger generation to stay in our county instead of growing up and leaving like they do.
“A few candidates addressed that for me, not one specific candidate though.”
Dottie Witkop, Parker (R):
On the biggest issue facing Elbert County: “The biggest issue is getting commissioners elected in November. No matter who they are, they have to be able to come together, bring this county to a place where people enjoy living here, honoring the people that are working in our government offices that are doing the jobs for them.
“Those people are serving us, and we should treat them with a lot of respect. That isn’t happening right now. I was a little disappointed tonight, because of the way they were talking about the employees, and I don’t think that’s right.
“When people are in the job, they’re doing the best they can with what they have, under some tense conditions, they have to become vocal. They can’t just keep it inside.”
On the current state of Elbert County government: “I’m disappointed in it. I’ve helped all three of the commissioners over the years, and I hate to see what’s been going on. I don’t quite understand it all, because I’ve been out of the political arena for about a year. I’m just disappointed in what’s going on right now.”
When askeda about a candidate who addressed her concerns: “I think Chris Richardson, I think he gets the drift of what’s in this county that needs to be fixed, in the government system, in the offices that we had.
“The water issues, Scott (Wills) addressed that very well. Two years ago, I was part of a plan to try to figure out what businesses could come into the Elizabeth area and Elbert County, and I think they are hitting on some of the topics like senor centers, but they shouldn’t forget the youth of this county.
“Grant (Thayer), I think he did really good too. He’s a very good man, and he’s got a lot of wonderful ideas, but the only thing I have concerning Grant, I think he wants to run the commissioners as a business. It’s a small community. We’re all neighbors, we’re all friends, and that gets a little difficult.”