Candidates ready to tackle issues
By DAWNE LEIKER
As campaign signs dot lawns and vacant lots, residents can see the evidence that another election season is taking shape.
Five men are vying for the three open Hays City Commission seats currently occupied by Mayor Troy Hickman, Ron Mellick and Eber Phelps, who was appointed to serve the remainder of Barbara Wasinger's term after she was elected Ellis County commissioner.
The city commission candidates are: Phelps, Mellick, Shaun Musil, Dominic Pianalto and Todd Gabel. Hickman did not file, citing a desire to devote more time to his son's school activities.
The two candidates who receive the most votes will receive four-year terms and the third place vote-getter will receive a two-year term. The successful candidates will be sworn in at the April 11 city commission meeting.
For Shaun Musil, the city commission campaign is shaping up to be an educational process.
"I've had awesome meetings with commissioners and (FHSU President) Ed Hammond," he said. "I've learned so much."
Musil said he is asking for input from local residents on his Facebook page because he wants to represent voters adequately, should he be elected. He's also made time to hear ideas from voters at local businesses.
"I've heard so many great things from people," he said. "I just want to listen to people and give back for the future."
Musil, a warehouse supervisor at Coca-Cola Bottling in Victoria, is an 18-year resident of Hays. He and his wife, Heather, have two sons.
Dominic Pianalto said he hopes to bring new ideas and a new face to the city commission. He said he is concerned about the city's growth, and sees a need for a new convention center and adequate meeting places in the community.
"We're losing a lot of business to Salina and Wichita and different areas," he said. "We've got the nice sports complex and now we need places for meetings."
Pianalto said he is supportive of a new convention center, but acknowledged creating a new center in Hays will require community effort.
"It's going to take a lot of work to get it, but it's going to have to happen," he said. "Especially if Hays wants to grow and be the outpost for western Kansas."
Pianalto, who is a lifelong resident of western Kansas, works for Bruckner Truck Sales. He and his wife, Andrea, have a two-year old son.
Since January, Eber Phelps has been filling the commission spot vacated by longtime city commissioner Barbara Wasinger when she was elected to the Ellis County Commission. His decision to file for the position was influenced by community supporters who encouraged him to run. In addition, he said he's glad to be serving on the commission.
"I really enjoyed my previous six years on the city commission, and so this time around, it's really clicking again," he said. "I'm really enjoying it."
Water programs and maintaining infrastructure are at the top of Phelps' priority list.
"I've always been one to look at it from the standpoint of pay now or pay later," he said. "I'm very proud of the commissions up to now, how they have maintained at least a schedule of maintenance on the streets because that can be very costly."
Phelps has lived in Hays his entire life. He served on Hays City Commission from 1990 to 1996 and completed eight terms as 111th district representative.
Phelps is married to Joni and has a step-daughter who attends Hays High School.
There's no set agenda driving the candidacy of Todd Gabel, who acknowledged the city likely will have some serious questions to deal with in the near future.
"One large (issue) will be the convention center," he said. "And water is always an issue. We have to stay diligent with that."
Although he said he is supportive of a convention center, Gabel said he is not in favor of the city owning it.
"I'd rather find a different way for us to establish one."
Gabel is a certified public accountant and has been an employee of Midwest Energy for nearly 14 years. He and his wife, Lisa, have two children.
Ensuring that Hays "stays the course" in maintaining a pay-as-you-go system was a driving force in Ron Mellick's decision to run for a third term. Mellick first was elected in 2007.
"We have to say 'no' to some people and some projects, but that's the best thing for the city," he said. "It took us a long time to get to that point, and I want to make sure that we stay on that track for as long as possible."
Other top issues for Mellick include housing and stormwater, but he maintained that "living within our means" is his priority.
"There's so many places that lost so much value in their homes that they've got to slash workers and cut city services and raise taxes," he said. "And that's what I don't want to see happen (in Hays)."
Mellick is a self-employed floor covering installer. He and his wife, Mary, have four children.