Crocker mayoral candidates seek business growth to fix budget
By: Darrell Todd Maurina
Posted: Monday, April 6, 2009 11:54 pm
CROCKER, Mo. (April 6, 2009) — Now that Crocker no longer has a city administrator, the role of mayor takes on a far greater level of importance. Both candidates, incumbent Mayor James Morgan and challenger Linda Wilson, are retired and say they have adequate time to dedicate to the administrative duties that mayors must do in cities that don’t have full-time city administrators.
A third candidate, Raymond Towe, filed for mayor but dropped out of the race before the ballots were printed.
Morgan, a retired Crocker High School history teacher who has lived in Crocker for 39 years since accepting the teaching post, cited his two decades on the city council, the last eight as mayor, as reasons for re-electing him. He’s also served on the Crocker R-II School Board for two consecutive three-year terms from 2000 to 2006.
“I believe I know the functions and duties of the mayor of Crocker,” Morgan said. “The work that we started needs to be completed and I’m asking that the citizens of Crocker give me another chance to fulfill those responsibilities.”
Wilson graduated from Crocker High School and spent 27 years in Crocker, returning six years ago after retiring from a series of civil service positions at Fort Leonard Wood, the final post being as a supply technician in the Directorate of Logistics. She also cited her experience running several private businesses, including current ownership of rental property in Crocker and prior work running a cow-calf operation.
“I believe that the people of the community elect their officials to conduct the business of the city and have in mind what is best for the city and the community,” Wilson said. “I have formal training business accounting and logistics.”
Crocker has been wracked by disputes following the termination of Joyce Peterson, who served for decades as the city clerk and later as city administrator, as well as other less-publicized disputes between staff members and resignations of employees. Council meetings have been packed with residents in recent months with residents, some of whom demanded the reinstatement of Peterson, who has since filed a lawsuit against the city.
The mayoral race isn’t Crocker’s only hotly contested race. Every city council position up for election this year is contested, along with the school board and fire board:
• Crocker R-II School Board President Charles Worstell and member Jeff Curry face two challengers, John T. Riffe and Rebecca Ruckman Posten. The highest two vote-getters will be elected for three-year terms.
• Curry is also a Crocker Ward I alderman, where he faces a challenge from Tom Townsend for his one-year unexpired term. Incumbent Jim Patton faces a challenge from Lorie Layman for his regular two-year term as a Ward I alderman, and Ward II Alderman Kimberly Skaggs-Henson faces a challenge for her regular two-year term from Herman Goodrich.
• Incumbent Crocker Fire Capt. Robert Ishmael and fire board member Jeffrey Porter face a challenge from Randall Moore. The two highest vote-getters will serve for six-year terms on the governing board of the Crocker Rural Fire Protection District.
Wilson said she brings additional experience that would help her deal with the community’s disputes if elected as mayor.
“I have gone through facilitation training which is if there would be a dispute, you send a facilitator in to resolve the dispute, which is a non-biased person. I have had a lot of training in public speaking and helping instruct people,” Wilson said. “Over the years I have helped organize and chair many organizations. I feel the main qualification to oversee and deal with people is to treat people the way you would want to be treated yourself.”
While Wilson’s years of government experience doesn’t include much municipal work comparable to Morgan’s work since 1988 on the Crocker City Council, Wilson said she’s recently become involved in organizations such as the Pulaski County Growth Alliance, on which she serves as the representative of the Crocker, Dixon and Richland chambers of commerce, and other Crocker organizations such as the Crocker Chamber of Commerce and past co-chair of the Green Thumb Garden Club. She’s also a member of Crocker Christian Church though she’s been attending Hilltop Church recently.
Making Crocker a better place to live is key to Wilson’s campaign.
“I own a home in Crocker, I have rental homes in Crocker, this is definitely my hometown,” Wilson said. “I love the town and the people and I would love for this to be even a better place than it is. I think we have a great community here and I would hope we can head toward the future with our community.”
Both Wilson and Morgan avoided specific comment on the termination of Peterson, noting that the case is currently in litigation.
One of Peterson’s claims is that Crocker violated the Missouri Sunshine Law by holding meetings without adequate notice of what would be considered. While not commenting on Peterson’s claims, Morgan said he has every intention of following the law.
“By law you have to notify the public of meetings,” Morgan said. “There is a posting of the meetings prior to the meetings every month. That goes out to the radio stations as well as the newspaper, and the purpose of closed sessions is to deal with litigation, real estate and personnel.”
City officials have said a key reason for not only terminating Peterson but eliminating her job was the city’s dire financial condition. Morgan declined to comment on details of the city’s current finances but said it appears elimination of a position helped.
“Our finances are working better than they were previously,” Morgan said.
Morgan noted that he’s stood for election four previous times as mayor, two of them contested races. His initial run in 2001 was a contested race, as was his 2007 race against Towe.
“I believe I have the qualifications,” Morgan said. “That’s the simplest way of saying it.”
In addition to his service on the Crocker City Council and Crocker R-II School Board, Morgan currently serves as treasurer of the Meramec Regional Planning Commission, vice-president of the Pulaski County Growth Alliance, vice-chairman of the Region I Homeland Security Commission, president of the Crocker Chamber of Commerce, and as a member of the Crocker Park Board and Ozark Solid Waste District. He’s also an elder at Crocker Presbyterian Church where he serves on the pastoral search committee.
“The main duties of the city council are to maintain and run the city, and the mayor is answerable to the city council to represent the city, to do the best we can for the city of Crocker, to maintain the services that the taxpayers pay for,” Morgan said.
Morgan said the new duties for the mayor, now that the city doesn’t have a city administrator, will mostly be financial in nature.
“The most important thing is to work on the budget, as well as doing grant information and writing up grants. It will be more responsibilities and paperwork coming down from the state,” Morgan said. “With the economic situation right now, we’re just going to have to see how things work out and how the stimulus package will assist small communities. Hopefully someday there will be more businesses in Crocker to add to our tax base.”
Morgan and Wilson both agreed that economic development depends on getting more businesses to come to Crocker. Both are members of the Crocker Chamber of Commerce and the Pulaski County Growth Alliance, and both said they’re optimistic the work of the countywide growth alliance, which has been under development for the last four years, will benefit Crocker and other northern cities of the county.
“The purpose of establishing the growth alliance was for all the communities to work together. There has been a lot of work, a lot of meetings, and a lot of meeting of the minds,” Morgan said. “Our goal is to have an economic developer hired as soon as possible, in the near future.”
Even apart from the economic developer, Morgan said Crocker has a strong lead on a local business opportunity, though the negotiations are still confidential.
“Hopefully we will be able to resolve issues and the business will eventually be located in Crocker. We are hoping to attract a business to Crocker, a lot of people know about it but we are still trying to negotiate issues on it,” Morgan said. “Really this is an opportunity for all the communities of Pulaski County to work together and for the county to get an economic developer who will assist all the communities and everybody will benefit if we work together no matter where a business ends up being located.”
Wilson shared similar views about the city’s need for close attention to its finances, but said she’s a better candidate to give the necessary attention to the city’s finances.
“I would like to take a very close look at our budget. I feel this is probably the number one thing I would like to look at and see if we can better use our funds,” Wilson said. “When we go to the polls and elect aldermen from each area and the mayor, it means we are putting our trust in those people to make the right decisions for the city.”
Key examples of better use of funds, Wilson said, might include fixing the city’s sidewalks, including a sidewalk project that was begun long ago but not yet completed.
“You need to look at how people have voted in the past and how they may be voting in the future,” Wilson said. “I feel I do have business experience and to be able to manage this town and the running of the city, I really feel I am a much better candidate than my opponent. I do own my home and I do own properties in this town where I have financial interests in this town as well.”
Wilson declined to identify past votes by Morgan or other council members that she’s concerned about.
Wilson noted that in her role representing all three northern cities’ chambers of commerce on the Pulaski County Growth Alliance, she needed to promote growth throughout the northern rural part of Pulaski County, not just in Crocker. That would change if she’s elected mayor, Wilson acknowledged, but she said promoting growth in rural Pulaski County will help everyone.
“I feel like we can’t just focus on today, we’ve got to be focusing on five years from now, 10 years from now, what our city is going to be,” Wilson said. “The businesses that may be interested in coming to Crocker might not be large businesses, but even if we get businesses that might employ four or five, it would help. We have an entire block sitting on our main drag in which there is only one business.”
While acknowledging that Crocker has problems, both mayoral candidates said they greatly appreciated its small-town character and generally friendly people.
“When people come to Crocker we are a very friendly warm town,” Wilson said. “We have a wonderful group of people who make up this community and we have a beautiful, beautiful Crocker community park. I like the atmosphere our town has; it still has the warm, caring air.”
“(I like) the small town, friendly people, the opportunity to work for the community and someday to see some progress for the community,” Morgan said. “One of the things that I would love to see in this community is more involvement by citizens and economic development for our city, and more community pride.”