Candidates for the Leavenworth City Commission had another chance to answer questions in a public forum Wednesday night.
Wednesday's forum was organized by Ernest Evans, political science professor for Kansas City Kansas Community College. The event featured all six of the people who have filed as candidates for the City Commission ― incumbents Mark Preisinger, Davis Moulden and Phil Urban as well as former Commissioner Lisa Weakley, home health care operations supervisor Keith Melick and semi-retired security worker Charles Raney.
Three commission seats are up for election this year. The election will be April 2.
The candidates were asked what they can do to bring new industry to the city.
Urban said one of things that is hurting the city is access. He said Kansas 7 Highway has a number of stop lights between the community and I-70. He also expressed a desire to improve the highway between the Centennial Bridge and Platte City, Mo.
He said Fort Leavenworth may benefit with additional programs being moved there as the federal government sees more consolidation. He also said the Leavenworth community is first on the list for the construction of a new federal prison.
Raney said Leavenworth has a high tax base and has to offer businesses something to locate here. He also said the city government needs to work with the federal government to improve highway access to the community.
Moulden said land for new businesses would have to be found. He said officials would have to think about growing the city to the west and northwest.
He said Leavenworth is a pretty decent town right now. He asked if people want outside influences coming in.
Preisinger also acknowledged issues with road access. He said the main economic drivers in the community are federal and state jobs.
He noted that Leavenworth may get an additional federal prison.
"We're pushing that," he said.
He also said city officials are working to bring more programs to Fort Leavenworth.
Melick agreed about the importance of improving highway access, but improving access on K-7 and between Leavenworth and Platte City, Mo., are not quick fixes. He said federal jobs also are important, but noted that in a time of an economic crunch, federal employees are facing furloughs.
Melick said it's important to sell the beauty of living in town. He suggested a large business could be brought to the west side of town and employees could see that it's fun to live here.
Weakley noted a new hotel is coming to the city. She said Fort Leavenworth has opportunities for growth.
"We're on the cusp of a lot of development," she said.
Weakley said she would like to build on the momentum. She said the city needs to continue to work to bring in an additional hotel.
Page 2 of 2 - She also said Leavenworth needs great highway access and city officials must work with Kansas and Missouri officials. She said Leavenworth needs to have greater influence on the Mid-America Regional Council.
The candidates were asked what can be done to deal with officer shortages in the Leavenworth Police Department.
Weakley said the Police Department has had issues of officers being trained by the department and then leaving for better positions in larger cities.
Weakley said she would like to revisit the problem of new officers making better salaries than experienced officers. She also wouldn't oppose creative incentives for officers. She suggested the city may be able to recruit people who've served in the military.
Melick said it's important to get youth to understand what a police force is about.
"It's getting the youth involved," he said.
He said many young people think police officers are old and don't care.
Preisinger said the Police Department has had retention problems. He noted the City Commission approved the implementation of a pay plan to address the problem of officers who've worked for the department for several years making the same as people who just have been hired. He said the plan includes steps with salary increases.
"That has helped with retention," he said.
Moulden said the salary compaction referred to by Preisinger was a major problem.
In order to have good officers, they have to be paid a decent salary and benefits, Moulden said.
"You've got to pay them," he said.
He said the Police Department competes with local entities such as the Lansing Correctional Facility and the U.S. Penitentiary.
Raney said the pay scale adjustment should help with the problem. He said there is a problem with officers rotating in and out of the department.
He believes the Police Department has been doing a good job with what it has. But he believes there are things that can be done to help keep officers.
Urban said the population is more transient than it used to be. He said the department did have a problem with salary compaction but the city has enacted the new pay levels.
"We're getting back up there in the manpower," he said.
Political science professor Ernest Evans will host another candidate forum at 7 p.m. March 27 at the Riverfront Community Center. That forum will feature candidates for the Leavenworth Board of Education.