NEOSHO, Mo. — Four Republicans are running to become Newton County Commission Chairman.
Although they have different priorities for the county, all say better communication with other county officials and government jurisdictions would help the county avoid becoming embroiled in lawsuits.
Newton County’s next presiding commissioner will essentially be elected in Tuesday’s primary, as candidates from no other party ran for the position. Candidates for President Commissioner are Daniel Swem, Kevin VanStory, Alan Cook and Rick McCully.
Each of the candidates shared many of the same topics as priorities for their agenda if elected to office. The Globe asked each candidate to name their top priority.
• to swim, 54 years old, has lived in Neosho for 52 years. He owns Swem’s Construction, which has been in business for 25 years. He is also a property manager and investor. He previously served on the board of directors of Neosho Parks.
His top priority is improving communications equipment for county police and fire departments, noting that many small departments are not on the same system as larger cities and the county.
“Not all of our rural fire departments have a radio system to communicate with the county,” Swem said. “They’ve been asking for it for a few years, and it’s an easy fix. … We’re going to have another disaster, and they need to be able to communicate.”
• VanStory, 58 years old, has lived in Neosho for 38 years. He is a real estate broker with SWMO Homes and was previously the general manager of Don’s Honda.
VanStory said its top priority will be business development. In his experience working in real estate, VanStory said the county has failed to attract several large companies that could have created about 10,000 jobs over the past 20 years, he said.
“Labour force is one of the most critical things because this type of growth can be lucrative for Newton County,” VanStory said. “People forget that Newton County had the means to build rockets that take us to space and to the moon.”
• To cook, 60, is a longtime resident of Newton County who lives in Granby. He has served as Associate Commissioner of District 1 of the Newton County Commission for the past nine years. Before that, he worked in information technology and human resources.
He previously served on the school board for the East Newton School District.
Cook said his priority would be to develop broadband Internet services across the county, noting that such a service can be an economic boon and a labor developer, and that his 25 years of experience in the field help them make informed development decisions.
“I have a lot of good friends who live in rural Missouri who have very lucrative jobs because they have good internet and can work from home,” Cook said. “It’s a backbone, and one of the first things companies ask for when looking at the county.”
• McCully, 70 years old, has lived in Newton County since 1964 and resides between Granby and Neosho. Now retired, he continues to work in sports arbitration.
McCully has already served two terms on the East Newton School Board, including two years as chair. He also served two terms on the Granby City Council and two more terms as Mayor of Granby.
McCully said his top priority is improving communication between county officials — something his previous experience in city and school government will help him manage.
“We should all be in this together, we should all be working together,” McCully said. “You just have to be open, visit them and go meet them, get to know them better.”
The woes of the courtroom
In recent years, the Newton County Commission has been embroiled in legal battles with other office holders and jurisdictions, including lawsuits with:
• Two other county officials on the use of data services.
• The city of Neosho on the income of the TIF district.
• The 40th Judicial Circuit of Missouri Courts on Courtroom Use.
In each case, the commission was effectively in a defensive position – as a defendant in the first two and as a plaintiff resisting a court order in the third. The Globe asked the candidates what steps they could take to avoid becoming embroiled in future lawsuits.
Swem said he believed better communication and direction from the commission was needed and would benefit from his experience in construction and his relationships with many other office holders.
“What I plan to do is actually find the biggest dining room table,” he said. “I would like to ask them to meet at least once a month. We have to work together. It’s taxpayers’ money, and we have to work better for taxpayers.”
VanStory also said communication from the commission was a key issue for other parties. The lawsuits cost the county too much money, he said, and his management skills in real estate and car dealerships will help him find common ground.
“I’m a good facilitator and can get things done without having to bully or intimidate others,” VanStory said. “It’s about finding equal and positive ground. It has to be a win-win for everyone. It’s not a win if someone loses.”
Cook, a member of the commission, said each of the cases stemmed from an attempt to work with the entities involved for better solutions, and that he was disappointed with how the cases ended up in court. He said he plans to improve communication and teamwork between agencies if elected.
“I hate having trouble inside,” he said. “We have enough issues outside (of the courthouse) to deal with, like people destroying county roads,” Cook said. “We must collectively be a team to move the county forward.”
Although he hasn’t seen many cases in a short time, McCully said he was part of a government board that ended up in court. He said he didn’t want to point fingers at each of the county’s cases without knowing the facts behind them, but thought the communication might have been partly responsible.
“I tried to do that in the past,” McCully said. “When I was mayor, we had issues with different departments. When you sit down and talk, things can be worked out one-on-one without having to go to court.”