We need new ideas in government. But we also need people that have been there and done it. New ideas combined with institutional knowledge is the best combination to help make local government successful.
Some of the candidates think there should be more new faces. And if the voters want, that could certainly happen. Hays is unique because voters can throw a majority of the Commission out every two years if wanted.
Why should we throw them out? From what I’ve seen, it’s because a small group of people are unhappy with a road project.
The Vine Street corridor project was first discussed with me when the city received word the Ambassador hotel may be closing. At that time, we started having discussions about what the city could do to ensure that the lot could be redeveloped. Even though it is in a desirable location, the access is very poor. Developers would need a protected left turn on to Vine.
A solution for North Vine traffic has been studied for decades but nothing has ever moved forward. Several ideas were pursued before getting where we are today, include a light at 37th/Vine (KDOT required a light removal at the interstate) reverse access roads (expensive, lots of property taken) among others.
Initially, I was not in favor of a roundabout solution. Not because I have a distaste of roundabouts, but because it was a lot of money and I didn’t believe that the problem was big enough to warrant a large expenditure.
As I thought about it more, I began to wonder if Vine has become the place you don’t want to stop because you can’t get back on I-70. I’ve worked in a lot of places in western Kansas, and I tried to think of some place where I don’t stop because of the access. The only place I could think of was the Kwik Shop in Salina on Schilling across from Walmart. Once you get in, you can’t get back out because you can’t make a left turn.
Has Vine become the Schilling Exit of western Kansas? I think it has.
And now we arrive at the upset 37th St. neighborhood. I am sympathetic to them. Change is hard and there’s no way around it, this is going to be a big change. But my sympathy doesn’t mean I agree.
A lot of candidates think we just need to “find a better solution.” I’m all for that. Please, find a better solution. If there is a better solution out there that will impact citizens and businesses less, I’m all for it. (I do enjoy politicians who say we need a better solution and yet never seem to provide a better idea…)
Here are some of the “solutions” that the 37th St. neighborhood initially wanted.
Just close 41st after the antique mall
Close 41st at Country Lane
Make 41st one way to the west only
There were more, but all of the ideas had a common thread of doing what was advantageous for their area while hurting people living on Country Lane or 33rd, not to mention the antique mall on 41st and traffic on 33rd or 41st.
Just how much traffic are we talking about anyway? According to the latest KDOT traffic count maps, there’s 1,670 vehicle counts on 41st and 4,500 on 33rd, just off of Vine. http://www.ksdot.org/Assets/wwwksdotorg/bureaus/burTransPlan/maps/CountMaps/Cities/hays17.pdf
Is traffic going to increase on 37th St? Absolutely. But how much? Looking at the facts, it’s clear to me it’ll be whatever combination of traffic from 33rd and 41st that now decides to use 37th. With multiple stop signs on 37th between Hall and Vine, it’s only going to be local traffic. Why would I use 37th and stop multiple times when I can use 33rd or 41st and not stop at all?
That’s the logical conclusion based on facts and evidence.
One candidate is upset because they, “weren’t listened to.” Well, the Commission did listen. You may have not agreed with their view or what they said, but they did listen.
I listened to a lot of people when I was on the Commission. I spent 3 hours with a room full of upset Realtors when we bought an option on land at Commerce Parkway. I listened to over 20 upset homeowners from around the Blue Sky addition. I listened to a group of upset homeowners on Thunderbird when two of their homes flooded and they believed it was the city’s fault. I listened to multiple people over the lane reductions on Canterbury.
But if a certain candidate is to be believed, I didn’t listen in any of these circumstances except the last, because that’s the only one where I did what the “majority” wanted.
I have no idea what has happened in our culture, but listening doesn’t mean agreeing or bowing down to the loudest. Listening means really reflecting what the other side is saying and then having a conversation. It means looking at the evidence and then coming to a logical conclusion based on that evidence.
Doing what the loudest group wants at the expense of everyone else around them is not leadership.
A Commissioner never acts alone. Elections in Hays are special because when you’re trying to get in the top three, it becomes a campaign about the candidate and what they can do for the whole community. It’s not a campaign against the other guy. Anyone who thinks they will get elected by trashing the other guy may not like it so much when they both get elected and he finds himself in a minority.
Any candidate who is telling you they can single handedly solve your problems while providing no solutions and trashing the other guy has a fundamental misunderstanding of how to get something done. If you just want a loud voice who causes a stir but accomplishes nothing, then that’s your candidate. But if you want real progress, find one who can work with others. When elected, you’re a Commissioner of everyone, not just one neighborhood.
It’s easy to forget how good people have it in Hays. Our sales tax is 8.25%. That compares to 9% in Colby, 8.95% in Garden City, 8.65% in Dodge City, 8.75% in Salina, 9.15% in Topeka, etc… We have the lowest mill levy of anywhere outside Johnson County.
The city has had the same number of employees for years without diminishing services. Hays is spending more than ever on general street maintenance and paying cash to do it. We’ve paid down debt and refinanced what little debt is left to lower interest costs. We have a credit rating in the top 2% of all municipalities in the nation.
The city is so well managed, candidates can now literally campaign on spending city tax dollars on county road projects. Seriously, stop and think about that.
Most importantly, we have city employees who truly care about the city and want to see it succeed. I would put them up against any of their peers in any other city. Hays is very blessed.
The Commissioners are not perfect. I can attest to that. I made a lot of mistakes. But until Jesus is on the ballot, at least consider voting for a candidate who looks at evidence and can work with a others to make a positive change. I know for sure two of those candidates are Henry Schwaller and Ron Mellick. Mason Ruder and Michael Berges appear to have that capacity.
May God Bless the City of Hays.
James Meier is a former Hays city commissioner who now lives near Wichita.