Byram turns on election heat

KINGMAN – Water supply and Stockton Hill Road congestion weren’t the only items sparking contention between spring election candidates at the Elk’s Lodge on Valentine’s evening.

Former Mayor Les Byram spared any conciliatory gestures in his opening statements, directing accusations at Mayor Monica Gates of what he said were forced resignations of city officials and mismanaging of funds during her term.

Byram said he left office with the “city in excellent financial condition,” listing capital improvements made while he was in office, adding that he estimated half a million dollars was lost from staff resignations and “one outside study after another has cost close to a half-million dollars” since Gates took office.

Byram told the 75 or so attendees that, “I will bring integrity, accountability, and financial responsibility back to this office.”

Mayor Gates turned a blind eye to the attack and said she would “focus on the accomplishments of this city council,” listing stated accomplishments including hiring a “city manager with 30 years experience in growth management,” enacting a compensation plan to retain city employees, improving the building department and adopting a smart growth policy among others.

Gates touted accomplishing the completion of the Airway Underpass as an example of private-public partnership and hiring an economic development director to bring “quality, sustainable jobs to Kingman.”

“Let’s keep moving forward,” she said.

Terry Thomson said he would bring a different approach to the mayor’s office by “involving the public” and “laying it on the line.”

“Our overall goal is to improve communication between the city and it’s constituents,” he said.

Councilman Jim Baker, running for re-election, said that, “Kingman is in the position to take some serious steps forward,” emphasizing that the city needed to tackle growth “that won’t come without very difficult decisions.”

“We can try to stop it, or we can embrace it and make it best fit to what we want,” he said.

“We have finally been discovered. The only thing we can do is get ahead of it,” said council candidate C. David Cooley.

Cooley said council members needed to look at other high-growth cities to be better educated to direct work assigned to outside consultants.

Council candidate Kerry Deering, in a nod to the holiday, compared running for public office to being in a relationship that involves passion, communication, long-term commitment and perception of the public.

“The perception out there is that Kingman is growing. But do we have to be the third largest city?” he asked referring to a growth projection study, adding that Kingman was currently lacking in medical care and schools to move at the current pace.

“I don’t have any secondary gain for running for office other than I love Kingman,” he said.

Councilman Ray Lyons, running for re-election, said he makes common sense decisions and that “I’m the only candidate that doesn’t own a business,” and has “no connections to developers.”

Council candidate Janet Watson asked, “Are we growing smarter or are we just growing?”

“We need to get control of our growth, our management to be sure we don’t overstep ourselves,” she said, adding that the city should not “forget the people and businesses that have been here along the way.”

Mediator Richard Basinger asked candidates what they thought about annexation, which Thomson, Gates, Baker, Cooley and Lyons said was essential to growth policy. Byram said the city should pave dirt roads in the city first, Kerry and Watson said it should be an initiative started by residents of the subject area.

On financing infrastructure, Gates emphasized public-private partnerships, “creative financing” involving partial tax strategies, and looking at bond issues.

Thomson said definitely a property tax and a transportation utility tax.

Byram said capital projects should be presented to the public strictly as bond issues for vote.

Lyons said he was optimistic on proposed impact fees, Baker said the city needed “a three- or four-pronged approach,” Deering and Cooley were curious to the effects of what impact fees would amount to.

All candidates agreed that jobs were essential to development, but disagreed on the method of attracting business.

Byram said he did not want to see Kingman “become a bedroom community for Las Vegas,” adding that hiring an economic director for $88,000 was unnecessary.

Baker said the city needed professional help to formulate a plan for development, and not “wait and just see who shows up.”