|Council candidates discuss stance on Gering issues|
|October 08, 2014 Jerry Purvis|
As the race for Gering City Council approaches, candidates for the job were at City Hall Tuesday night to explain their positions and field questions from the media.
The panel included incumbent Dan Smith and challenger Monnette Ross in Ward I, incumbent Rebecca Shields and challenger Kerri Schnase-Berge in Ward II and Phillip Holliday in Ward IV.
Jill McFarland, former council member in Ward IV, had resigned from the board this summer but didn’t take her name off the ballot. Julie Morrison, running unopposed in Ward III, opted not to participate in the forum.
In her opening statement, Schnase-Berge said that during her year as Gering City Clerk, she wasn’t afraid to stand up for principle or take on anyone. She now wants to put a vote to that voice. “It’s time for us all to work together and get things done,” she said.
Ross said her years on the city’s Board of Adjustment and an interim appointment to the council gave her the experience to be an effective council member.
Smith has six years of experience on the council and said a lot of money and effort are going into planning for Gering’s future and isn’t afraid of long term commitments for community betterment.
Holliday was appointed to fill the remainder of McFarland’s term and is seeking his first full term on the council. He said he grew up in Ward IV, the district he now wants to serve. “This is a great place to raise a family in a community of great people,” he said.
Shields is running for her third term in Ward II. “I show respect to fellow council members, city employees and the citizens,” she said. “I come to every meeting with an open mind and truly listen to what our citizens want.”
One question involved how open and transparent the council has been with the citizens, given the many closed sessions the council declares at meetings.
Ross said the council could do better, given that she’s received many comments from people they aren’t given the information they should have. “I know there’s a need for closed sessions, but I’d do what I could to keep things in the open.”
Smith said the situation is better then when he was first elected. “I didn’t understand then that most of the work is done in committee before it gets to the council. Those committee meetings are publicized,” he said. “And I can’t recall going into closed session unless it involved real estate negotiations or if some person’s reputation could be harmed.”
Holliday agreed, saying an informed community is a powerful community. However, if closed sessions are needed, they should be explained afterward.
Shields said that whenever a committee meeting is held that might interest her constituents, she makes an effort to contact them and invite them to attend. However, she did say there are some issues with transparency. “I was the first one to question why city staff was working on a proposed meatpacking plant when none of us on council knew about it,” she said.
Schnase-Berge said openness in government is important. “I’m glad to hear progress is being made, but from what I’ve heard, not nearly enough has been made. There’s a general distrust of our government and I believe that if it’s government business, it’s public business,” she said.
When asked about economic development, Smith said it’s needed. Gering’s median income is below the national average and its median age is higher. “We know our kids are leaving the community after college because opportunities aren’t here,” he said. “It’s our responsibility to look for opportunities to build industry and promote jobs.”
Holliday said the city has lacked vision when it comes to economic development. “Economic development needs to come from within our own community. And we need to do a better job supporting the local businesses we do have.”
Schnase-Berge said the city has been progressive in promoting economic development, especially in the area of tourism. And Ross said that economic development is everyone’s job. “We have to work with our citizens to where they’ll let others know what we have to offer. That will start to bring in business.”