Candidates running in the three local elections this fall gathered Oct. 10 to participate in a public forum.

City Commission candidates at forum
Photo by Kayleigh Lawson

FROM LEFT: Forum moderator Jack Dickson addresses a question to City Commission of Arkansas City candidates Kanyon Gingher, Vice Mayor Karen Welch and Commissioner Jay Warren.

This forum, held at the Arkansas City Senior Citizens Center, featured a question-and-answer session for each of the three groups of candidates.

The first session was set aside for Cowley College Board of Trustees candidates, the second for City Commission of Arkansas City candidates and the last for USD 470 Board of Education candidates.

Questions were submitted by the approximately 80 audience members who attended the forum.

The forum was co-hosted by Ark City Daily Bytes and the Arkansas City Area Chamber of Commerce, and moderated by Jack Dickson, pastor of Shepherd’s Grace Church in Arkansas City.

Cowley College trustee candidates

Seven people are running for four open seats on this board, including three incumbents, and all seven attended the forum.

Ned Graham, Bob Juden and Brian Sanderholm are current trustees attempting to secure another term on the board in the Nov. 7 election.

The other four candidates are not currently trustees, but most have had experience on boards prior to running in this race.

Michael Bergagnini has served as the mayor of Parkerfield since 2004, Darrin Green served on the Cowley County Mental Health Board and as a Cub Scouts leader, and Gary Wilson was a Cowley County commissioner for 12 years.

Each candidate answered questions about the college’s master plan, its property acquisition plans and what courses or programs they would like to see added to the college’s current offerings.

One question that all of the candidates agreed upon was regarding the board’s written policy that requires a 72-hour notice from any citizen who wants to address the board during its meetings.

Each of the candidates was in favor of eliminating this rule, but placing a cap on the amount of time allowed for individuals to comment or pose questions during the trustees’ meetings.

Michael Bergagnini

Bergagnini holds a master’s degree in business administration and has served as a professor.

“I believe I can apply a business approach to help guide this college in continuous contribution to the community to delivering a quality education while being financially responsible and transparent in business activities,” he said.

When asked what his priorities would be if elected to serve as a Cowley College trustee, Bergagnini said his top priorities are making sure credit-hours transfer to other college and “right-sizing”  offerings to the job markets.

Ned Graham

“I have a … really, admiration for the school and administration, school and faculty,” Graham said.

“I’m pleased to be here and I’m pleased to be a member of the Cowley Board of Trustees.”

Asked what his priorities would be if re-elected, Graham said his top priorities are the welfare of the students, making sure the college is an intricate part of the community and keeping its mill levy as low as possible.

Darrin Green

“I’ve been thinking about running for the board for eight or 10 years,” Green said.

“We’re finally in a place in my family — my kids are finally old enough — that it won’t harm my family for me to go to the board meetings.”

His expectation is that his two children will attend Cowley in the coming years.

“I want to be part of the program that allows the college to grow,” Green said.

He said his top priorities are:

  • the students, their experience and the education they receive;
  • the community, primarily by justifying how money is spent at the college;
  • making sure staff have the tools and materials needed to provide proper educations.

Jonathan Hansen

Hansen said part of his push to become a trustee is due to his involvement with the college as a foster family for international athletes.

“I would like to get involved with the college and give back to the community, and really help with connecting the college to more of the businesses in the community, as well,” he said.

Hansen said his top priorities are:

  • looking at growth;
  • using tools such as social media to reach out to students;
  • creating more opportunities for students to network;
  • reaching out to the community to create a more symbiotic relationship.

Bob Juden

“I’ve been involved with the board for four years,” Juden said. “We’ve gotten a lot accomplished in those four years. I’m proud to be a part of it.”

He said his own experience with the college is what made him desire to be involved.

When Juden enrolled at Cowley, he said his reading and math skills were roughly at the level of a fourth-grader, but when he graduated, his skills were college-level.

He said his top priorities, if re-elected, are:

  • forecasting and accommodating the needs of education at the college level, e.g. offering courses that are needed;
  • ensuring that money is “going in the right direction”;
  • working with the administration, to give them “ideas on different situations.”

Brian Sanderholm

Sanderholm’s children all attended Cowley College.

“My business has done well in Ark City, and I decided when I got my business paid for, I was going to return some back to Ark City and Cowley County,” he said.

“This is what I’ve decided to do.”

Sanderholm said, if he is re-elected, his top priorities are:

  • helping students in any way he can;
  • making sure the college is financially stable;
  • listening to faculty and staff, and doing whatever he can to help out.

Gary Wilson

Wilson has served on the Cowley College advisory board for the last 10 years.

“The reason I’m running for this position is I’m concerned about the industrial side of our training that’s being done at Cowley College,” he said.

“I’d like to see it expanded a little more and I’d like to see the resources located to provide the products that are needed to expand these because I’m still in industry.

“One of our biggest struggles is finding qualified people. Not necessarily people, but qualified people with skills. I’d like to ensure that that kind of training is going on.”

Wilson said his top priorities if he wins a seat are fiduciary responsibility, fair-minded policies, and ensuring the students are receiving the education they are paying for and that employers are seeking.

City Commission candidates

There are six people running for three open seats on this board, including two incumbents.

Jay Warren and Karen Welch currently serve on the commission and are attempting to secure new terms. Welch recently was selected as vice mayor.

The other three candidates are not currently serving, but one of them, Kanyon Gingher, has attended many City Commission meetings.

She also has experience serving on several boards. Currently, she is a member of the Cherokee Strip Land Rush Museum Board of Directors.

Fellow candidates Tim Perry and Milissa Robb did not attend the forum.

A sixth candidate, Richard Humphrey, is moving away and will not be eligible to serve. He has asked that citizens do not vote for him even though his name will be on the ballot.

Each candidate answered questions Oct. 10 about upcoming city projects, open work sessions set aside for the commissioners and how taxpayer money should be spent.

Kanyon Gingher

Gingher is involved in many grassroots efforts in Arkansas City.

She has been known as the “cookie lady” for years in connection to her program that helps people to pay utility bills when money is tight, using the proceeds from the sale of cookies she bakes.

“I want to make this community stronger and better unified,” Gingher said.

She also said she wants to see more children get involved in the system.

“Whether it’s through a mentoring program … whatever we can do to get them involved, and be a part of the creation and a part of the solution,” Gingher said.

She added that she wants to see more people involved in city advisory boards, and she wants to make it easier for them to do so.

Jay Warren

“My family’s always emphasized public service,” Warren said.

He said his uncle, who served in the Kansas Legislature, told him once that “when you harvest fruit from an area, you’ve got to put something back in.”

Warren has served on the commission for almost nine years and twice served as mayor.

“I think we need to receive more input from the public about what we do,” he said.

Warren said he would like to see more people attend commission meetings and interact with the commissioners.

Karen Welch

Welch is a retired dispatcher who was appointed to the City Commission when former mayor Chad Giles stepped down last year.

“I grew up and moved one block from home,” she said.

“I enjoy serving the public. … I’m here to listen.”

Welch also would said she would like to see a method of retaining residents.

“The government is about you. … This is how you input to us so that we can listen,” she said of the forum.

USD 470 school board candidates

Six people are running for three open seats on this board,  but only one is an incumbent — sort of.

Lance Niles currently serves on the board, but he has not been in the seat for very long.

He volunteered and was appointed just a few months ago to fill the remainder of Dr. Aaron Watters’ term, which ends in a few months.

Niles is attempting to secure a full term that will begin in January.

Fellow candidate Tyler Yung was not in attendance at the forum due to a previous obligation.

The five candidates who were in attendance all have children who attend USD 470 public schools.

Each candidate answered questions about using local vendors for projects, changes in curriculum due to technology and whether Niles’ appointment was appropriate so close to the election.

Lori Barnes

Barnes is an Arkansas City transplant who holds a bachelor’s degree in science from Emporia State University.

“I have a vested interest in the schools,” she said.

“I want community members to know that I will listen to all sides and research all sides before forming an opinion on any matter.”

Asked what she would like to see accomplished if she is elected, Barnes said her priorities are recruiting and maintaining talented educators, focusing on improving test scores, and bringing technology into the classrooms.

Rhoda MacLaughlin-Ramirez

“I believe in education … but I also believe in the skilled workforce,” MacLaughlin-Ramirez said.

She also noted there is a certain amount of lack of mobility within a career without some formal education.

“I am passionate about education — I built my career around it — but I’m even more passionate about my children and I want the absolute best for them,” said MacLaughlin-Ramirez, who is the chief librarian at Cowley College.

“Now, my service might not be the best, but it is the best that I have to offer. I have absolutely no agenda for serving on this board other than a way to give back to this community.”

MacLaughlin-Ramirez said she is running to support the school district and staff, as well as to promote projects or classes involving technology.

Damon Mendoza

Mendoza said he wants to serve on the board “just to give back to the community.”

He is a Marine Corps veteran who has served on many boards within the community.

Mendoza said his priorities, if elected, are improving testing scores, improving funding and preparing students for the future — both college and life in general.

Lance Niles

Niles was born and raised in Arkansas City. He currently is the president of Union State Bank in the Arkansas City market.

“I want children to believe they can achieve their dreams, and I’ll commit to working with administrators, teachers and parents to help kids realize those dreams,” he said.

Niles said his priorities, if elected to a full term, are improving teacher retention, increasing test scores and expanding course offerings through Cowley College.

When the question came up regarding his appointment, Niles defended the decision, saying he was the only candidate who “stepped up” and applied for the vacancy.

Kate Reilly

“I am a stay-at-home, work-from-home mom of four children,” Reilly said. “I am passionate about education.”

She is an Arkansas City transplant, as well, and has had experience in dealing with many school districts.

“I may be young, but I have a lot of experience,” Reilly said. She is married to Cowley College trustee candidate Hansen.

Asked what she would like to see accomplished if elected, Reilly said her priorities are:

  • increasing test scores;
  • better utilizing resources that are already available;
  • providing good instruction with technology and using technology that students already have, such as smartphones;
  • collaborating on usage of sporting facilities.

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