The tone of the two local and county races for office provided a contrast Tuesday in a political forum in Lansing hosted by the Leavenworth-Lansing Area Chamber of Commerce and the League of Women Voters.

The tone of the two local and county races for office provided a contrast Tuesday in a political forum in Lansing hosted by the Leavenworth-Lansing Area Chamber of Commerce and the League of Women Voters.

The race for Lansing mayor was a cordial one between two men who called each other friends, current Mayor Gene Kirby and former City Administrator and Police Chief Mike Smith. The campaign for county treasurer was more contentious as current Treasurer Janice Van Parys and opponent Kelly Kultala sparred especially about the relationship of the treasurer and the County Commission.

Moderator Brandon Johannes, Chamber president, asked all the questions, some of which had been submitted by the audience that filled the council chamber, asking each candidate the same one and allowing a short rebuttal as well as closing comments.

For the mayoral candidates, one question involved the issue they considered most important for the city’s future.

Kirby sees it as a “revenue versus needs and wants” issue and noted that even though the city had no mill increase for the coming year, they were able to provide one extra police position and to fund a program for abandoned buildings. They were able to do that, he said, by eliminating some positions and restructuring.

Smith thinks one department, economic development, has been shortchanged because one position was cut and the staff member in charge of economic development also heads another department. He believes a full-time position would allow that staff member more time working to retain current businesses as well as attracting new ones. That way, he said, there could be more commercial, retail and residential development to provided needed revenues.

Kirby said the city has not been doing nothing in that regard, citing several new businesses that are now in Lansing.

Smith also is interested in negotiating what he called a more equitable rate with Lansing Correctional Facility for the wastewater facility. Kirby said the city is in the process of negotiations, but they’re now facing new parameters, since the state is in such dire financial straits.

The loss of employees was another concern Smith voiced, noting that has occurred the last couple of years, and he wants to keep them here. Kirby said some have left because of the pay and the lack of advancement in their career, but it’s not always been because of pay. He listed the benefits the city offers, noting that the city is doing the “best we can with what we have.”

Asked about their greatest achievement while with the city, Smith mentioned the $13 million grant to redo Main Street and add turn lanes, which he said has helped attract businesses and prevent accidents. Kirby recalled the circumstances that brought him to the mayor’s seat — he was council president when Mayor Billy Blackwell died. That, and the death of a “beloved employee" were difficult circumstances that he and the council and staff were able to “move on and we did it together as a team.”

Van Parys and Kultala recounted differences that have been topics of stories, paid advertisements and letters to the editor during the recent campaign. Kultala accused Van Parys of overspending her budget and wasting taxpayers’ money, citing the $70,000 spent on a lawsuit against the commission involving the transfer of funds from the Motor Vehicle Fund, among other things.

Van Parys said she wouldn’t apologize for the transfer, which the county’s accountant had said was allowed, and she also disputed other instances that Kultala has cited as wasteful spending. She accused Kultala of putting a “fake budget” in a recent paid ad that she said did not reflect accurate budget figures.

Kultala defended those figures, which she said she obtained from the county’s website and from documents secured through the open records law.

Van Parys called Kultala a candidate handpicked by Commission Chairman Bob Holland, while Kultala said four people had urged her to run for the position.

Can the relationship with the commission be repaired? That was another question posed to the candidates. Kutala cited her decades of public service, saying the turmoil needs to stop. She said she wanted to see more professionalism.

Van Parys said it could be repaired, but commissioners need more knowledge about the Motor Vehicle Fund and she also believes “professionalism needs to start at the top.”