Carthage Mayor candidates answer questions at March 29 forum

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Carthage Mayor candidates pictured from left, David "Bren" Flanigan and Dan Rife. John Hacker / CNO

CARTHAGE, Mo. — Two candidates are running for the four-year term as Mayor of Carthage in the April 5, 2022 election, incumbent Dan Rife and long-time resident David “Bren” Flanigan.

The two answered questions at a candidate forum hosted by the Carthage Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday, March 29, 2022.

Here are their two-minute answers in the order they answered the questions at the forum:

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Briefly tell us about yourself?

• Dan Rife

I was born in this building, I’ve lived here my entire life with the exception of the time I was away in college. I have a masters degree in rehabilitation counseling, which doesn’t have a whole lot to do with city government but it does have to do with working with people and getting the best performance out of people. I live in town here with my beautiful and supportive wife Teresa. My son Jake recently moved back to Carthage a couple of years ago and I have a step-son Bob who recently moved to town as well.

• David Flanigan

Some of you might know me as David but my wife calls me Bren. I’m from Carthage originally as well, my family has been here, I’m fifth generation, we moved here in the 1860s. I graduated from Carthage High School and subsequently enlisted in the United States Army and while serving with the 82nd airborne division, Fort Bragg, N.C. I had the opportunity to attend the Military Academy, which I did and I graduated and after 32 years uniformed service I retired as a colonel of infantry. I then went into the civilian world and worked for 15 years in senior management positions in the business world to include the last nine here at Leggett & Platt. Just as COVID hit I retired and so now I have lots of free time on my hand and when it’s all said and done, my wife had something to do with my running for office because she’s trying to get me out of the house as soon as possible.

What makes you the best candidate to be elected to the office you seek?

• David Flanigan

I would say first and foremost as many have said, I also love Carthage. It has been a part of me since I was born in this building. I was gone for over three decades serving our nation and by extension Carthage in the military and interestingly enough the gemstone on my class ring from West Point is actually Carthage Marble and it has traveled the world with me just like a part of Carthage has traveled the world with me. I am retired now completely so I have the latitude to be able to dedicate my entire day and all of my time to the city and the citizens, which I think is needed and necessary. Finally I have over 40 years of senior management and leadership experience both in the military and in the civilian world that I feel are absolutely essential to be able to carry out the duties of mayor appropriately.

• Dan Rife

I have the experience and proven leadership abilities to keep this city moving in the right direction. I have been on the city council since 2007 and have been mayor since 2018. During that time I have served on every city committee, including Public Safety and Budget as well as served as Mayor Pro Tem for eight years, a position that is voted on by the council yearly. In every roll I have served well and to the best of my ability and the citizens continue to reelect me. It is an honor for me and I take this responsibility very seriously. I have led as mayor by advocating for non-intrusive government and giving the freedom to our excellent staff to do their jobs. I provide overall guidance and vision and get involved when needed but I do not micromanage. If you look at the success and growth over the years, this style of leadership seems to be what we need and it is working well.

A serious topic that is being discussed I the city is the replacement of the three North Garrison Street bridges. The projected price tag is $30 million to replace these bridges. Is this a priority for the city and how should it be funded?

Dan Rife

When the city assumed ownership of these bridges industrial traffic was tearing up our streets and bridges. The population of our city was moving south and at the time it may have been a logical trade to get new interchanges for the industrial and other traffic in exchange for those bridges for the visitors from the north and west. While these bridges are important, the $30 million price tag is too much for the city to absorb. We are looking for federal and state grant funding to help with this project and make it doable. If not we should let the voters decide if this is worth coming up with the funding for.

David Flanigan

I generally agree. Clearly, emotionally, 71 Highway came over those bridges, the Jefferson highway came over those bridges, 71 represents one half of the Crossroads of America which we all know is Route 66 here in town. A lot of emotion associated with them and a lot of history associated with them. I do not know, I’m not privy to what the traffic coming across those bridges looks like. I know the city has taken a look at that to determine exactly what the impact might be if in fact they are not repaired. I applaud the mayor and the city council that they should be exhausting all potential funding sources because a $30 million price tag is not insignificant. I also agree that if in fact all funding is exhausted and we decide that $30 million is the number that has to be sought, that probably is a decision best made by the citizens of Carthage after we have been able to communicate to them the advantages, the disadvantages, the impacts of not opening them and the costs associated with. I think it is something that is going to have to be addressed and sooner rather than later.

Our community has a very low stock of single-family and multi-family housing. There is also a need for child care for families in our community. With these limitations, this impacts our work force and many of our businesses are struggling to fill positions within their company. What do you think is the city’s role in helping solve these issues and what do you think is a top priority?

• David Flanigan

My view of the role of city government is to address several audiences. First and foremost, the citizens and current businesses in Carthage should be primary concerns, but the secondary audience that must be addressed are potential Carthaginians and potential new businesses that are looking for places to settle their families or open new businesses. We’re talking child care, we’re talking housing, we’re talking available work force, high speed internet, we’re talking the characteristics that someone who is looking for a place to relocate their family or their business are looking for. And that’s what Carthage needs to strive to provide. We can argue whether or not the city should lead in that, and my definition of leadership includes facilitating those players that have something to do with that area, CW&EP, the realtors in this are, the mortgage lenders in the area, the child care providers in the area, the young mothers that want to start a child care business in the area. All of those folks need to be assisted and facilitated in moving forward to make Carthage attractive to people that want to relocate or potentially want to consider relocating here, or starting their small business here. And then we will all derive the benefits of their arrival.

• Dan Rife

Right now we are already building more houses that most cities around us. We have 201 lots available for building, half of which have commitments to build in the next year. There are 82 houses being built on Chapel Road, 52 housing units across from the Intermediate Center and other apartments and duplexes being discussed. While our city is doing a great job with $41 million in property development in the last 18 months, our city staff and committees are focused on economic development, including housing, in the next year as housing is already a priority for this administration.

Every year during the budget process, more money is requested by our city department heads than the city can fund. In other words, there are typically more needs than there are funds. If this were to happen, as an elected official, how will you or how do you decide funding priorities within the city?

• Dan Rife

The mayor really sets funding priorities. A community has to be safe and orderly, streets and publicly used infrastructure needs to be well maintained, these are the first priorities of any community or the community cannot thrive in other ways. After these requirements are met, it is all about the quality of life for our citizens. We will never be able to afford all the great things we could wish for, instead we must prioritize according to our city plan and partner with our community groups to get the most for our dollar to accomplish every good thing that we can. Whatever we do, the budget must be totally transparent and understandable to the council, staff and most importantly, the citizens. If we can’t afford to do something, people should understand why we couldn’t along with why we chose other priorities that we did.

• David Flanigan

The handshake between the citizens of Carthage and the Carthage government is that the citizens provide tax dollars and their expectation is that those tax dollars are returned to them in the form of services that the citizens come to expect and demand. That’s fire protection, it’s police services, it’s street and water, it’s parks and recreation, it’s all those types of things. The city is not a for-profit enterprise, just like the army wasn’t a for-profit enterprise. There will always be, as there should always be, things that department heads would like to fund that the don’t have the money to do. And what that means is it helps in the prioritization process, there’s a budget committee that assists with that as part of the city council responsibilities and the department head is able to articulate here’s what I can do to perform my duties as required and subsequently here’s what I can do if given a little bit more. If in fact that little bit more appears to be so attractive that it worth going back to the citizens and the taxpayers to ask for a tax increase to be able to fund it, that certainly is a legitimate approach to take. The funding issue, the budgets, Carthage has a budget that is not insignificant. It’s about a half or a third of what I was used to dealign with in the military in some of the positions I had, and there are always going to be unfunded requirements that you try to get to to get the most money for you’re dollar as you’re going forward. In this case the taxpayers are asking us to ensure that that in fact is the case and they’re getting the best return on their investment.

The last two questions were asked only of the mayor candidates.

If you are elected Mayor of Carthage, what is your top priority and what does your first 90 days look like?

• Dan Rife

This election is right smack in the middle of the beginning of the budget process for the city. So getting the budget completed is obviously a priority, making sure the city is prepared to continue to provide the level of service needed and keep the city heading in the right direction. As a result of this election, there is a chance for a larger than normal changeover in council members. We’re going to have more new council members than usually happens after an election. There’s a significant learning curve for newly elected council members. I would like to schedule a work session to provide some education on the responsibilities and duties for council members in the various roles required of them. As a council member one is going to be assigned to at least two standing committees, one or more special committee, and they’ll be designated as a liaison to an outside board. So not only does the new member need to learn the ins and outs of being a city council member, they also need to learn what’s required of a liaison, what’s required of the special committees. That’s going to be the priority of the first 90 days after this election.

• David Flanigan

I believe the first 90 days, clearly the functions of government have to continue, the budget process will have to continue to be done. As a new mayor, what I would do is essentially go on a information collection tour. I would go visit every department head, I would visit every city facility, I would attempt to meet every city employee, the 100-plus that we’ve got, make sure that I understood from their perspective what their needs are and what their requirements are and what they would like to see done, suggestions for moving ahead. I would then go beyond the city staff and the city personnel to the other players across Carthage whether it be the Carthage Economic Development Committee or the R-9 School board, anyone who has a role in Carthage and has a vested interest in what’s happening in Carthage I would make a sincere attempt to try to find out what their concerns are, what their fears were, what they wanted to see happen and what they thought the right answer was going to be. In 90 days I would be able to take that and distill it into what I would call a vision of what Carthage needed to look like in about 10 years and craft that and subsequently share that with the different entities. I would suspect that we’ll find that we’re probably in violent agreement in most cases in terms of what they want in 10 years. Then we start moving out at that point. That would be about 90 days worth of work, but having gone through similar processes before I know it can be done and I know how important it is.

What do you believe is the most pressing issues facing the city of Carthage and as mayor how would you address those issues?

• David Flanigan

I believe there is so much positive energy in Carthage right now. You look at what’s happening with Hispanic Connection, you look at Vision Carthage, you look at the rejuvenation of the Square, of new businesses, small businesses moving up there, you look at all the positive things going on. We’ve got a new Chamber of Commerce President that’s making things happen, we’ve got a CEDC that’s rejuvenated. A lot of that is absolutely positive and very important for the future of Carthage. My fear would be that we lose that energy because that energy is not supported from the Mayor’s office, and or from the city council and as a result some of the players decide I’m not going to get support I’m not going to try anymore. We don’t want that. We cannot have that happen. Carthage right now, is at a critical stage in its life. We’re 180 years old this year, right now we need to be looking 10 or 20 years down the road at where we want to be, what we want to offer for our citizens. There is so much going on right now I believe a key role for the Mayor and the city council will be facilitating, coordination of the elements that are out there making things happen and assist them in collaborating so two or three of them together can accomplish more than any one of them could individually and moving the entire city forward.

• Dan Rife

The city is always facing issues that are pressuring. Many of them, we’ve talked about this evening in previous questions. Economic development, expensive projects, maintaining and improving services provided to the citizens, budget struggles are all just some of the issues a mayor can expect. Carthage is in a position and is positioned well to deal with any and all of those issues. In my years in office, they’ve put me in a position to oversee the hiring of many of the city’s department heads we currently have and I believe I have a great working relationship with those department heads. I try to provide direction, I don’t micromanage, I use the same approach with the council. Judging by the success and growth of the city over the past few years, I believe it’s working.

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