Commission hopefuls field
questions from the public
NOTE: This piece was published in Vol. 101, Issue 8 of The Collegio on Oct. 19, 2017.
Residents of Pittsburg watch as the candidates answer questions from the panelists, the audience and each other at the forum. The forum was held to elect a new city commissioner. PHOTO BY VEER NAIR
Sitting shoulder to shoulder, seven candidates vying for three Pittsburg City Commission seats answered prepared and audience questions at a public candidate forum Monday night.
The candidates include newbies Michael Fienen, Dawn McNay, Jacob Anselmi and Sarah Chenoweth, and reelection-seeking incumbents Michael Gray, Patrick O’Bryan and John Ketterman.
Chamber of Commerce president Blake Benson moderated the two-hour forum, giving each candidate 90 seconds to answer each city-related question written by the audience and screened by Patrick Richardson, editor of the Morning Sun. Their answers will help citizens decide which candidate to cast their ballot for in the November 7, 2017 election.
For organizational purposes, the Collegio has created subheads for each candidate’s personal background and responses.
Fienen moved to Pittsburg 17 years ago and graduated from Pittsburg State University (PSU) with a communications degree. He went on to do web development, working for a company based in Boston.
If elected, Fienen said he will improve communication between the city and its citizens.
“There is a communication gap within the community, whether that’s looking up things on the city website to how people feel about what’s going on within [the city],” Fienen said. “It’s a gap that has gone unregistered. We need to look into that because there is a lot of misinformation in terms of how people feel about what’s being done or how things are being done in town.”
In addition, Fienen said the city should encourage businesses to take advantage of Pittsburg’s economic opportunities. For example, office space in the U.S. reigns at $23.00 per square foot, compared to $9.00 per square foot in Pittsburg, Fienen says.
“It’s extremely important that we look at the organizations and the business industries that we can bring into town to use that advantage for their own,” Fienen said.
Fienen said he encourages community members to contact him on his Facebook page, phone number or in person.
“I have one mode and it’s open,” Fienen said. “I will always answer a question about why I think the way that I think.”
A mother of two sons and a community member for 24 years, McNay said her experiences in healthcare and education make her a strong candidate.
“The experience that I bring will be really beneficial in moving us forward,” Mcnay said.
McNay worked at Via Christi Hospital for over 18 years and currently works at the Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas. She served on the USD 250 Board of Education for 16 years.
McNay said the city needs a comprehensive plan for business growth.
“We need to continue to work in economic growth, [but] we need a framework for business growth,” McNay said.
McNay also said the city should consider innovative methods of developing its workforce.
“We need to be more innovative in terms of preparing our youth, identifying the jobs that need to be trained for and [helping] individuals who haven’t finished high school,” McNay said.
Anselmi has worked as a videographer at PSU for the past six years.
Anselmi said if elected, he will work to address the issues facing childcare. The Family Resource Center currently has a waiting list of approximately 200 children, Anselmi says.
“Childcare is a huge deal,” Anselmi said. “I know a lot of parents who either can’t work a full-time job and the husband stays home or vice versa. We need to try and help in that regard.”
Anselmi also said the city should consider innovative ways to reduce energy costs.
“I get Westar [Energy] just like many [people] do,” Anselmi said. “I don’t want to pay that much, so what if we decided to [provide] our own power.”
Anselmi said economic partnerships should continue being fostered, particularly between the city and PSU.
Anselmi also said the city should consider implementing green spaces and a downtown urban farming center generating produce for surrounding areas.
“[The urban farming center] is something that I have a little bit of passion behind,” Anselmi said. “If there’s something innovative that we can be a part of, how about growing our own produce.”
Chenoweth, a Pittsburg citizen for 12 years, graduated from PSU with two masters degrees in English and communications. She works as a substitute teacher and yoga instructor.
Chenoweth is also the secretary on the Southeast Kansas Women Helping Women Board and a staff member at the Safehouse Crisis Center, a Pittsburg-based alcoholism treatment program. She and her husband own a curbside recycling business.
“My work has given me a really unique insight into desperate needs of so many people and overwhelming generosity,” Chenoweth said. “I have always known that whatever I ended up doing, I would only be happy if I was able to serve other people.”
Chenoweth said she wants to bridge the city’s inequality gap and support Pittsburg’s working class, while continuing to support small businesses.
“I love that Pittsburg is so supportive of small businesses. I would do just about anything [to] keep our local businesses thriving and put money back into the hands of business owners and their employees.”
Chenoweth said she would also like to modernize infrastructure and increase housing options, as only two-thirds of people working in Pittsburg live within city limits. Additionally, she said the city should employ more individuals in the working class.
Additionally, Chenoweth said even though women compose half of Pittsburg’s population, there are none on the city commission.
“My mission is one of service and I would be humbled to be your city commissioner,” Chenoweth said.
Gray immigrated to Pittsburg from Puebla, Mexico in 1999. He works in the legal department of Watco Companies, L.L.C. Gray was first elected to the commission in 2011 and is seeking a third term.
Gray said new businesses should not divert attention away from current businesses.
“We need to not forget the people here today that are employing thousands of people and I think we’ve been able to do that very well over the past five years,” Gray said. “That needs to continue.”
In addition, Gray said the city commission should shed some light on issues such as homelessness and mental health.
“We have a challenge in our community relative to mental health and homelessness,” Gray said. “I don’t necessarily think that the city should be paying for it, but I certainly think that we have to be involved in that discussion and work with the community to find a solution to those issues.”
O’Bryan has 50 years of retail experience from working at Little’s, a former clothing store in downtown Pittsburg.
He has served as a board member at the Pittsburg Area Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Merchant Association, and the president and financial chairman of the Pittsburg Decorations Council, according to the city’s website. He has been a city commissioner since 2016 and is seeking reelection.
O’Bryan said the city’s main focus should be providing fire protection, police services and sewage maintenance.
The city should continue partnering with different areas such as Via Christi, Crawford County, Frontenac and Girard, O’Bryan said.
“We succeed when all of these entities succeed,” O’Bryan said. “We have to maintain and nurture those relationships to move all of us forward.”
Echoing Gray, O’Bryan said the city should provide support for new businesses.
“We need to have the resources here so that when [innovative businesses] do get created, they feel comfortable being in Pittsburg,” O’Bryan said.
Born and raised in Pittsburg, Ketterman has been on the city commission for seven years and is seeking a third term.
Ketterman said the city should recruit more workers and create new jobs.
“There are businesses here that are having trouble finding people to work for them because there’s just not enough people here right now,” Ketterman said.
Although it has not yet hit Pittsburg, Ketterman said the city should prepare to handle the opioid crisis, a national crisis taking the lives of 90 Americans per day, as shown by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
“It’s flagging cities nationwide,” Ketterman said. “In classes I’ve gone to, it’s pretty evident that it’s coming and I think it’s something that we need to get ahead of.”