LCHS seniors hear from mayoral candidates

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[February 22, 2017]  LINCOLN - On Wednesday morning a senior assembly at the Lincoln Community High School allowed the students the opportunity to hear from Lincoln mayoral candidates Kevin Bateman, Seth Goodman, Marty Neitzel and Wanda Lee Rohlfs.

The assembly was put together this week by LCHS Superintendent Robert Bagby, and Civics and Government teacher Jeff Cooper.  Cooper explained that at LCHS each senior is required to take either a civics class or a government class.  The discussion had taken place at the school as to how to proceed to introduce the students to the candidates and encourage them to participate in the primary election coming at the end of this month.  Options had been weighed, and it was decided a single one hour assembly with all the seniors would be the best plan of action.

Cooper said that in the senior class there are some who have already turned 18, and the school wants to encourage those students to vote.  In addition, he said that any student who will turn 18 before the general election on April 4th has the right to go ahead and register to vote now and to participate in the primary election on February 28th.  As a part of his class, Cooper said he would offer extra credit to students who do go vote.

The day began with the candidates being permitted five to 10 minutes to talk about themselves and discuss their political platform, beginning with Kevin Bateman.

Bateman introduced himself and reported that he was a lifelong resident of Lincoln and Logan County.  He said he was a 1982 graduate of LCHS, his four children had attended the school, and he had grandchildren that would also attend LCHS.

Bateman reviewed his resume, noting his involvement in the community through the Up in Smoke on the Square, as well as on the Logan County Board and board committee memberships as well.

He closed saying that he loved the city of Lincoln and was very invested in seeing the town grow and thrive.

Wanda Lee Rohlfs spoke mostly on her years at LCHS as a teacher.  She explained that she grew up in Logan County, and had a job at LCHS by the time she graduated college.  She talked about her experience at the school and the young people she got to know and still knows, who had an impact on her life.

She told the students always to remember that while the teachers and the school are having an impact on the students, the students also have an impact on the teachers by helping them grow, and also by forming lasting relationships.

Rohlfs also revisited a topic she discussed in the Lincoln/Logan County Chamber of Commerce Mayoral Forum on February 1st.  She said that now as seniors, the students were making decisions about their future.  She said college might be an option, but students may also wish to end their education at high school and seek employment.  She said that she wanted to see job opportunities for those students here in Lincoln so that they would not need to leave home in order to succeed.

Seth Goodman began by introducing himself and stating he is now 29 years old.  He was a graduate of LCHS and Millikin University.  He came home to perfect his profession, selling real estate.  He said that he chose to come home because he saw the potential but also saw that he could create potential within his home community.

He asked for a show of hands, how many seniors intended to leave Lincoln and how many intended to stay after school.  Those leaving outnumbered those who would be staying.  Goodman said that was why he was running for mayor; he wants to help make this city a place where people will want to stay.

Marty Neitzel said that she too was raised in Lincoln and attended LCHS.  She and her husband ran a business together here, they raised a family and attended church right here in town.  She said she had become mayor to help the city thrive. 

Neitzel said her desire was to see Lincoln be a town where young people want to stay and want to raise their families.  She said to make Lincoln a better place, the city needs to focus on small business because small businesses are the backbone of the economy.  She wants to see young people have opportunities in small business.

She said that Lincoln is a safe place to live and she wants to keep it that way.

Neitzel reported that in the last city election held, only 10 percent of the residents went to the polls.  She said that was about 1,500 people making the decisions for a population of 15,000.

Neitzel told the students that voting is a privilege and an opportunity for everyone to have their voice heard in local government.  She encouraged the students to take advantage of their privilege and to become involved in the future of the city with their vote.

Before the assembly, students had been asked to submit questions for the candidates.  The questions were to be addressed to specific candidates.  Four of the questions were selected beforehand, and those students were to stand and present the question to the candidate.

The first question was from Luke Terrell and addressed to Kevin Bateman.

What is it about you that separates you from the other candidates for mayor, such as issues that you believe are a priority for the city of Lincoln?

Bateman recounted that when he became a member of the Logan County Board, he was given advice that he could not run the county like he does a business.  Bateman said he disagreed.  He said the county, and now the city is indeed a business.  He said yes there were differences.  In business, one sets the budget, and it needs to be balanced, and even profitable.  He said the city budget needed to be balanced, but the goal should be to spend less so as to give money back to the taxpayers.

Batemans said he would work to bring together people who can work together and achieve the goals of the city at a lesser cost, thus saving the city money and in the end the taxpayer's money.

He told the students to remember that it is not what they make that matters, but how they spend what they have.  He said as mayor he would hold to that principal in city government.

Bateman went on to say that he felt it was okay for people to leave Lincoln to work, he does.  He said the goal should make the town a place where people want to live and raise their families.  He said he wanted to grow small business, and have more to offer residents, so they see no need to leave this community.

He said, yes, he would like to see big manufacturing come to Lincoln, but that Lincoln can grow and thrive without it.

Reagan Tibbs had a question for Seth Goodman.  Can you explain why your inexperience in government should not be a concern to the voters?

Goodman kept this answer very short, saying there are a lot of politicians in top positions that are not good leaders.  He said that he would bring to the city a fresh perspective and fresh ideas.  He concluded that the lack of experience in city government does not define what kind of mayor he will be.

The question for Marty Neitzel came from Graham Hill.  What plans or ideas do you have to encourage the growth of business in Lincoln?

Neitzel returned to her earlier statement saying that small business is key to Lincoln.  She noted that large factories would be good, but small businesses also provide jobs for the citizens.  She noted that small business is growing in Lincoln.  She noted the arrival of the second Casey’s store, the upcoming construction of the new Dunkin Donuts, and the new larger McDonald’s that is on the horizon.  She also mentioned the resurrection of the Tropics sign at McDonald's, and the tourism draw that will come to the city from that sign.

She then said that there is opportunity for economic growth in Lincoln that not everyone sees, and that is in the development of facilities for senior living.  She noted the various senior living centers that are here, the recent arrival of Copper Creek, and development and expansion projects underway at St. Clara’s.  She said this not only adds to the quality of life for senior residents but will bring more jobs to Lincoln.

Neitzel moved on to say that she wanted to continue developing an attractive downtown.  She noted that she wanted people to come to Lincoln and see a nice downtown area and want to stay here and be a part of the community.

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She concluded that while she has no specific plans to lay out, she does have a lot of ideas.

The fourth question came from Jacob Konekyk and was addressed to Wanda Lee Rohlfs.    A common complaint of young people in our community is that there are few activities for them.  This could contribute to the rate of drug use and delinquency in our city.  Do you have any ideas to help address this issue?

Rohlfs said that first of all, drugs are not new to Logan County and Lincoln, the problems have existed in the area for years.  She also noted that the problem is not locally isolated, that drug problems are everywhere.  She said as much as it would be good to see the problems go away, that isn’t going to happen, drugs will continue to be an issue.

She said the bigger question is what are the circumstances in a person’s life that lead them to make the decision to use drugs?  She said she felt a lot of it was self-esteem.

She said that there needs to be more offerings of programs that will help young people know their potential.  She commented that programs like the Lincoln Land CEO that teaches kids how to create job paths using the talents they have are key to giving young people purpose.

Again she talked about not necessarily sending kids off to college, but giving them skill-sets that they can use to find employment locally right out of high school.

She said that questions need to be asked of young people, such as “What makes you leave?  And how can we help you stay?”

Rohlfs also commented that visiting a pizza restaurant recently she was told that young people are more often hired from outside of Lincoln than from in town.  The reason being that kids graduating from other schools have more ‘transferable skills.”  Rohlfs said that needed to be addressed.

She said, yes, she hears people say there is nothing to do in Lincoln, but she feels there is more offered here than ever before, so the big question is “What do you want?”  In addition, she said another question would be “what will you do to enjoy what you want?”  She noted that there was a call for a skateboard track in the past.  The Lincoln Park District was willing to address that want but found that kids said they were not willing to travel across town to the park district to enjoy what was offered.

With that, the formal question period was concluded.  Cooper said the students had about 15 minutes left in the class period, so he would take random questions for all four candidates.

One question came about the poor condition of the streets, and also the home in the city that the questioner labeled as “not nice.”

Batemans was the first to answer saying that his focus would be on quality, not quantity.  He said the “city has touted they did nine miles of roads this year.’ But he said the road work was not quality work.  He said he would have spent the same amount of money, done fewer miles but better work, so that the roads would last longer.

Bateman also talked about public transportation and said the county had implemented the transportation program around the city in conjunction with Community Action.  He said he would like to see that program someday also include evening drives to the movie theater or the school for ballgames.  He said he would also like to hear from the people about what they want and need in a public transportation program.

Goodman said that he felt that roads were important, and he felt that all the candidates shared that feeling.  He said cleaning up the city was part of community pride, and something that he wanted everyone in the city to be a part of.

Neitzel countered Bateman’s statement about the quality of work done this year on city streets saying she felt the city had done a good job and that the constituents were pleased.  She also talked about new equipment the city is using to do more durable patches of potholes and felt that was a very positive step in the right direction for the entire town.

Rohlfs commented that she had researched and spent time with the city street department, learning about road maintenance and repair and that it was a far more complicated issue than folks would imagine.  She said the big problems facing the city now was there is a great need for repairs throughout the town, and not enough money. 

She noted that in addition to needing money for streets, there were mandates coming before the city with expenses the city would be forced to pay regardless of affordability.  The upgrades to the sewer system are an example of what must be done by law, that the city doesn’t have the funding to for at the moment.

She said that the city would need to explore new ways to fund projects and determine how to move the city forward affordably.

The last question of the day was addressed to Goodman only.  The student noted that in their freshman year there were 250 students enrolled in the class of 2017.  As graduation approaches, there are now only 150.  The question was what can be done to improve the school experience, so there will be fewer dropouts.

Goodman said he would question if the entire number lost was drop out students.  He said the population of the city is declining, and he would wonder how many of those lost students were because families left town to live elsewhere.

In answer, though, he added that the key to keeping students in school is to engage them and get them involved in school activities but also get them involved in the community.

The other candidates were invited to answer the same question, but only Bateman had time for a short comment.  He said he agreed with Goodman that the bigger issue is people leaving Lincoln to live elsewhere.  He said the challenge is to find out why they left, and what the city can do to help bring them back.

With that, the hour was over, and students were dismissed to go on to their next class.

In Lincoln, the four candidates running for mayor are all registered Republicans.  Therefore, the mayoral position will basically be decided on February 28 at the primary, and the general election will be more or less a formality.  Neitzel noted that only 1,500 people in a population of 15,000 voted in the last city election.  She said that 1,500 were making the decisions for 15,000.  There does need to be a greater participation in the voting process. 

This week Logan County Clerk Sally Turner said the number of absentee votes coming in ahead of the primary are very low, something she finds discouraging. 

Who we choose as our leaders is an important issue.  The candidates have done a lot to make an impression on the community; now it will be the community’s turn to make an impression of its own.  Please choose to vote February 28th.

[Nila Smith]

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