Election results are in for Garden City’s elected bodies, and a few new faces stand to shake things up going forward after a series of close calls.
Garden City Commission
Voters elected incumbent and current mayor Melvin Dale, Lindsay Byrnes and Troy Unruh to the Garden City Commission. Out of 5,670 votes split between seven candidates and write-in votes, Unruh received the most votes with 1,198 at 21.13 percent. Dale came in second with 1,111 votes at 19.59 percent, and Byrnes took the third seat with 967 votes at 17.05 percent, narrowly beating Keith Collins, who received 954 at 16.83 percent.
As the only incumbent, Dale was able to retain his seat. He was unable to be reached for comment.
When asked how he felt about receiving the most votes as a newcomer in the City Commission election, Unruh said, “It’s an honor.”
“It will be an honor to serve as a city commissioner,” he said. “I am just grateful. I’m grateful to everyone that ran. It’s hard putting yourself out there, but our city is worth it, so when you care about something, it makes a big difference. I just want to make sure and say congratulations to all of the candidates for putting their names on the ballot and also campaigning because it’s not easy.”
Unruh also thanked voters for giving him “their trust and their confidence.” He currently serves as vice president of the Finney County Convention and Visitors Bureau board. It is not yet clear how his new appointment will affect that position.
Byrnes said she is “honored” and “excited” to serve Garden City as a city commissioner. Having just put her kids in bed and learned the news, she added, “I’m a little lost for words.”
Collins touted throughout the election that his father and grandfather before him were city commissioners. When asked if he plans to run again after narrowly losing the election, he said, “Who knows.”
“I really want to congratulate those who won, and I want them to lead our city well,” he said. “This city is important to me.”
John Hahn followed Collins in votes with 594. Chris Hamlin, who did not attend the candidate forum in September, received 463 votes. Pedro Rodriguez followed with 377 votes.
There were six write-in votes.
GCCC Board of Trustees
Three seats were open, and incumbents Merilyn Douglass and Blake Wasinger were re-elected to the Garden City Community College Board of Trustee, while a familiar face in the GCCC community, Leonard Hitz, unseated incumbent Melvin Neufeld.
Douglass was the top vote-getter with 1,983, followed by Hitz with 1,816, and Wasinger with 1,402. David Rupp, a 60-year old retired GCCC criminal justice instructor, had the fourth highest vote total with 1,391, while Neufeld received 1,104 votes.
“I hope I bring a new perspective that will maybe make the college think more about being there for the community, rather than being there for the college itself,” Hitz said. “The taxpayers own the college. The college does not own the taxpayers, and Melvin being unseated, I have had a lot of people tell me that was the best thing that could have happened.”
Hitz said he believes it's time the college started doing things to make the community care.
“It’s not about me, it’s about the community,” he said. “It’s not all about growth, and it’s not all about the number of students. The college is there to serve the community, the community isn’t there to serve the college, and I think it’s time we started considering the college a little bit more.”
Neufeld, who was appointed as a trustee in March 2015, when asked if he plans to run for public office or as a trustee again, said that it’s a “long time away” to think about that.
“We’re not going to speculate on that one,” he said. “Generally, at this point in my life, I’ll do anything I can to help the community, and it will be something else I imagine.”
Reflecting on his time as a trustee, Neufeld said he feels the college is heading in the right direction with increasing enrollment, success in athletics, as well as other things.
“Most important to me is we’ve done a good job since I’ve been there of taking care of deferred maintenance,” Neufeld said, referencing parking lots being resurfaced, as well as new roofs being put on some of the college’s buildings and renovations to the Dennis Perryman Athletic Complex.
Douglass, a 59-year-old nurse practitioner, has been serving on the board since 2005.
“I’m very grateful to the voters for coming out and voting for me. I really appreciate it,” Douglass said. “I will continue supporting the college and representing the citizens of our counties and make things better.”
Douglass noted that she would like to see GCCC provide more avenues of communication between the public, the college and its trustees.
Wasinger, a practicing chiropractor, was appointed in 2016 to fill the term of the late Ron Schwartz, and Tuesday night said he is excited to serve his first full term as a trustee.
“I’m really ecstatic that I got re-elected, especially since I was appointed for the year term.This is a vote from the people that I should be there or on the board,” Wasinger said. “… I feel like that now I have a little more time, I’m hoping that I can catch up and hopefully help move the college in the right direction and see the college do well.”
Those elected will take office in January.
Garden City USD 457
The incumbents of the USD 457 Garden City Board of Education were both allowed to keep their seats after all the votes were tallied, but not without a close call.
Nearly a third of voters voted for incumbent Jean Clifford, who received 1,971 votes at 28.34 percent. Tim Hanigan followed with 1,651 votes at 23.74 percent, and incumbent Lara Bors clinched the preservation of her seat with 1,238 votes at 17.8 percent. She was followed closely by Alex Wallace, who received 1,117 votes at 16.06 percent. Jeff Sims finished last with 952 votes at 13.69 percent. There were 25 write-in votes.
Hanigan said he is “pretty pleased” to be elected to the school board.
“A lot of other quality people were running, and I could have voted for any of them,” he said. “My first priority is just to understand the budgeting process and all the background that I need to know to get up to speed as quick as I can.”
Clifford also expressed enthusiasm after receiving the most votes of any candidate. She said the board does “one of our most important jobs in Garden City.”
“I’m very pleased to have been reelected, and I plan to continue to work hard and do my best for the community and our district,” she said. “I’m humbled by [getting the most votes] because I think there was a slate of good candidates, but I very much appreciate the support that the community and the voters have shown me, and I am going to continue to work hard to make sure that our community is well represented and that students, parents and teachers all have a voice on the board.”
Sims, head football coach at GCCC, said he is thankful to the 952 people who voted for him.
“It’s a blessing to have the opportunity, and I wish the people on it to do a great job,” he said. “You can’t win anything if you don’t throw your hat in the ring.”
Bors was unable to be reached for comment.