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St. Robert council candidates agree on need for growth, differ on methods
SAINT ROBERT, Mo. (April 3, 2010) — While it’s Pulaski County’s largest city, voters in St. Robert traditionally have had some of the lowest turnouts in the area. Some of that is due to the low number of candidate filings; this year, most races in the city are uncontested except for the Ward I alderman race between incumbent Alderman Ralph Cook and candidate Charles V. Slider, Jr., and the citywide municipal judge race between incumbent Municipal Judge Thomas M. Julian, Sr., and challengers Gerald R. Marker and Kenneth E. Hawley.

All St. Robert voters, however, will be able to vote in the Waynesville R-VI School District race which has four candidates, incumbent Lori A. Laughlin and three challengers, Nathan A. Purdome, Marcus L. Davis, and Dorsey L. Newcomb, vying for two open slots on the school board.

Voters in the city’s other three wards do not have contested elections except for the municipal judge and school board race. Ward II Alderman Ed Spotts, Ward III Alderman Todd Williams and Ward IV Alderman William Urena are all running unopposed.

The two Ward I candidates, Cook and Slider, share many things in common. Both are in their fifties; both are retired military personnel, with Cook serving in the Marine Corps and Slider in the Army. Both have lived in the area since the mid-1990s, though Cook is a native of St. Robert who returned to Fort Leonard Wood late in his military career and retired in the area.

However, the incumbent, Alderman Ralph Cook, said his years of experience on the city council are the main reason he should be re-elected.

“Having served with the cities for six years, with my experience and being assigned to various committees by the mayor, I have hands-on experience with the budget and a strong commitment to the city,” Cook said. “I’d like to bring in more industry for jobs and with the industry we’ll have more economic growth. Probably the most important thing is to bring in more jobs so we are not so reliant on Fort Leonard Wood for jobs.”

Cook is one of those Fort Leonard Wood employees; he now works as the academics chief for the Marine Corps Detachment at Fort Leonard Wood.

He was initially appointed to fill an unexpired term in Ward I in 2004, and later won election in 2005 to the seat for which he had been appointed. Prior to that, Cook chaired the city’s planning and zoning commission.

Cook has been an advocate of aggressive commercial growth in his years on the planning and zoning commission, as well as efforts to attract industry to the area. He’s also involved with the Pulaski County Growth Alliance which is seeking to promote economic development for the entire county.

“I think the biggest issue is bringing in more industrial and commercial growth,” Cook said.

Ralph Cook and his wife, Theresa Cook, are both aldermen serving Ward I although both are quick to emphasize that they don’t necessarily agree on issues. Theresa Cook, who has served much longer than her husband on the city council, only narrowly won re-election last year in a race with Slider, who ran for office as a first-time candidate.

“I don’t look at myself as being a challenger. I’ve met all the challenges you can meet in life,” Slider said. “I look at myself as being a regular citizen looking to provide improvements in the quality of life of the citizens of St. Robert for Ward I and for all the other citizens afterward … Our goals may be similar in some aspects, our goals may be different in some aspects, but I don’t look at myself as competing against someone else. I look at myself as running for the community to represent them.”

Slider said he also wants to see economic development for the area, but his plans focus on taking advantage of the natural terrain and rustic beauty of the Ozarks. Slider said he believes the area can attract a major recreational facility and that would aid economic growth for the entire region, without damaging the natural beauty that’s already present.

“We have a very nice terrain, and in this terrain, you don’t have a Sea World. Sea Worlds are located mostly on the coast, but when you live in mid-America, you don’t have a Sea World,” Slider said. “Where we are situated is in the middle of the United States … The terrain is beautiful; we could bring all kinds of economy to the area of the Ozarks as well as St. Robert.”

Slider acknowledged that his idea is “out-of-the-box” thinking, but said the area could greatly benefit from promoting its recreational aspects.

“It would draw visitors and tourists from all the adjoining states because they wouldn’t have to travel all the way to Florida or California to go there. The only problem would be in the winter, providing a cover for the people when they come down to tour, and it could be a seasonal Sea World,” Slider said.

Slider said he’s glad to see the city already promoting other recreational opportunities.

“We also have the St. Robert Community Center which is being developed with a swimming pool … The swimming center that they developed is one of the things that I recommended when I ran last year; I recommended that we have a YMCA for the youth to go swim,” Slider said. “The other point is the elderly citizens really do not have anything to do. We have a VFW for bingo, but I would like to provide other recreational opportunities for the citizens of St. Robert and Waynesville because we are twin communities.”

Having many ideas doesn’t always help if people don’t have the experience to accomplish them, and both Slider and Cook said they have that administrative experience in both civilian and military contexts.

Slider is now a teacher’s aide at Waynesville Middle School and volunteers as the president of the administrative board of his church, Greater Community Missionary Baptist Church, serves as a commissioner for the state to his denomination, and is a state representative for prison ministry in southwest Missouri, including work at the Pulaski County Jail, the state prison in Licking, and facilities in Springfield. Prior to retirement from the Army, he worked in Washington, D.C., with the presidential guard.

“I trained those people and I also developed the strategic plan for the Washington, D.C., area guards,” Slider said. “I worked in the community when I was in Maryland; I volunteered and I gave time to the community. I am a volunteer leader, and when I retired, I had the time and opportunity to provide that volunteer leadership.”

Cook’s service is with the Marine Corps, first on active duty and now as a civilian. He’s also a member of the Marine Corps League and St. Robert Bellarmine Catholic Church in St. Robert.

“I am on numerous committees inside and outside the city. I am budget-minded and I have the knowledge and commitment to do the job,” Cook said.

That’s what the residents tell him they want, Cook said.

“Some of the duties as a councilman are I am a voice for the citizens of the county and help build the strategies to promote growth and enhance the city,” Cook said. “(I want to) continue to assist the city in more economic growth and listening to the citizens for the needs of the city.”

Slider said he also listens to community residents, and many tell him that something needs to be done about the community’s road system, including the Sawmill and Lensman area in his own ward.

“The Sawmill connection was my idea that was disconnected between Lensman and Sawmill for a while. The other idea they have not yet developed was to broaden Y Highway and to develop a walking path where pedestrians would not be hit and also a shoulder where you could pull over,” Slider said. “Also on Y Highway you have the power lines and the big trees. The trees landed on the wiring and on the roadway; I would try to develop a plan where we could rather cut those trees down and replant them to avoid the citizens having a probability of power failure.”

While much of the community is improving, Slider said there are pockets of problem areas.

“In the areas over by Route 66, which is in Ward I, we have a lot of houses that are old and abandoned. I would help try to develop those areas and improve the way it looks,” Slider said. “We do need a lot of road improvement; that is the one area we need that is a downfall for our community. In the next 10 years we will be one of the biggest cities outside of St. Louis because of what is going on in the area, and I think we can capitalize on this thing by providing a tourism base with the community.”

Slider and Cook both said that despite some problems and challenges, they like the community where they have chosen to retire.

“I like the friendliness,” Cook said. “It seems like people you don’t even know, you can talk to and they’ll give you help.”

Slider agreed, and said that needs to continue with a strong emphasis on public safety personnel.

“If we manage how we are doing things and the way we plan, we can keep the quality of life at the level we are at, and as the city grows, the quality of life will increase and not decrease,” Slider said. “What I like about the city is it’s safe when you go home in the afternoon; it is quiet and peaceful. When you come home, you can home, look at the terrain and the trees, and it is very calming. It’s the natural presence of what God created, and I think that’s how he wanted us to live. The crime rate is low, people care about each other. It’s not too crowded and you can go out and walk around and not worry about being robbed and mugged. Our police officers are great, they are personable, our fire department is awesome, our mayor is great, he is concerned about issues in the community.”

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