Rice, Francis banter over conflicts of interest, ethics in candidates forum
By ROBERT PIERCE • Daily Leader
Candidates for the District 5 county commissioners race answered a wide variety of question about hot issues Tuesday during a forum hosted by KSCB Radio and the Liberal Chamber of Commerce.
After opening statements, incumbent Shannon Francis, who is running a write-in campaign after losing the primary to challenger Jim Rice, was asked along with Rice if they support economic development on the county level.
Francis said he has made this one of the centerpieces of the things he works on.
“I believe that the most effective economic development we can support is encouraging entrepreneurship in our community and also an open door policy on the part of government so that when businesses come to our community, there’s not a lot of rules and regulations and indifference,” he said. “That’s what we need to encourage. People need to not be afraid to fail. We need to encourage that climate in our community.”
Rice said economic development builds the county’s tax base.
“It helps hold down our taxes,” he said. “It helps hold down the mill levy. I think it’s very important to develop a plan that offers a level playing field to all entities thinking about locating in this area.”
Rice was later asked about a potential conflict of interest that has developed with his wife working with the Seward County Historical Society and a request for $250,000 to help rebuild the Massoni Barn at the Coronado Museum. The challenger said he was unaware of such a request.
He added the only thing he was aware of was a request by the historical society to have commissioners waive the rental fee for use of the Activity Center for a fund-raiser for the project.
“I really do not see a conflict because I’m in favor of replacing a building that was there,” he said. “My wife works there. I would still support that same initiative if she didn’t work there. If some people feel that’s a conflict of interest, she would be more than happy to quit tonight if that’s what makes somebody happy.”
Francis explained that the rationale behind the denial of the waiver was due to $78,500 the historical society received from the county as part of its budget.
“They have a budget of nearly a quarter of a million dollars,” he said. “They were going to have an activity to raise funds for their new building. We felt like if they thought the activity was going to be successful, it should be successful enough to cover the cost of the rental of the Activity Center.”
Francis said as far as the conflict of interest with Rice’s wife working there, it is between Rice and the voters as they go forward.
Francis, a housing developer in Seward County, then yielded a question about a conflict of interest regarding his work to deny a plat to the Yucca Ridge housing project.
The incumbent said he believes everyone has jobs which involve a conflict of interest to some extent.
“The city’s building incentive is called a building incentive for a specific reason,” he said. “It goes to the builders. It was to encourage spec home building. If you knew anything about the mortgage business, you’d know that those people that are buying those homes can’t use an incentive of that type to help them get into the home.”
Francis said there is no conflict in regards to the housing project.
“(The building incentive) was passed four to six years before I ever built a home,” he said. “It’s available to anybody in the community.
That’s the city’s policies. The county has no input on that.”
Francis said as far as the Yucca Ridge development is concerned, the project originally came to the commission with individual wells, septic, half-acre lots and dirt roads.
“There’s a lot of subdivisions out there in the county that have a lot of empty lots,” he said. “A lot of them have dirt roads. We feel like when the houses are that close together that you need to have paved roads.”
The candidates were later asked about the fundamentals they would use to solve the local crime problem.
Francis said one of the major fundamentals the county is working on right now is to improve the intake and assessment program that Juvenile Justice Authority uses.
“We want to place people in the appropriate programs,” he said. “This new intake and assessment tool will deal with juveniles before they enter the juvenile justice system. One of the big principles on that is you have low-risk offenders, moderate risk offenders, high-risk offenders.”
Francis said over the long run, this will save money.
“The high-risk offenders often educate the low-risk offenders,” he said. “They make them worse. We really have to look at programs that are going to be cost effective. Evidence-based practices are what we’re looking for. The earlier we can start to help people, the more successful we’re going to be.”
Rice said he believes the present commission has established a program that appears to be working.
“I will follow that and see how it goes,” he said. “From time to time, if there’s changes necessary and the rest of the commissioners agree, we will make that change. If they don’t, we’ll maintain the present system.”