City council candidates state their case
By Tyson Fisher
The general municipal election is right around the corner on Tuesday, April 5. To help voters make an informed decision, the Raymore Chamber of Commerce hosted a candidate forum, allowing residents to know more about each candidate.
Out of nine candidates running for city council, six participated in the forum. Aaron Fantasma, who is running against Ward 1 incumbent Reginald Townsend, was not present. Neither was Ward 2 incumbent Thomas Circo’s competition, Tabitha Forster. However, Forster did provide a bio that was read aloud. Victoria Wills, who is running unopposed, did not attend.
The Raymore Journal, The North Cass Herald and the Raymore Chamber of Commerce each submitted two questions. Those questions were put into a hat. Three were chosen at random. Each candidate was given two minutes to answer each question.
The forum was moderated by Brent Ewert of Community Financial Services Group. Robin Noe of Noe’s Jewelry was the timekeeper.
City council races include:
- Reginald Townsend* vs. Aaron Fantasma (Ward 1)
- Thomas Circo* vs. Tabitha Forster (Ward 2)
- Kenneth Pfeiler vs. Jay Holman* (Ward 3)
- Dillen Steeby vs. Sonja Abdelgawad* (Ward 4)
Tabitha Forster has been a Raymore resident for the last 10 years. She and her husband, David, have started two successful small businesses and remain in their current businesses, which is in Raymore. Forster has done volunteer work with the Ray-Pec Foundation, Chamber of Commerce, Raymore Festival in the Park, and the Cass County Forever Bike program.
Please describe your previous work in our community and how will these experiences qualify for a position on the council:
STEEBY: When pondering how his work as a volunteer coach and substitute teacher qualify him for seat in the council chamber, Steeby’s answer was “I’m not sure about that.”
“I’m concerned about things that I see going on,” Steeby said. “My wife and I came to this community to establish our home and raise our children. We came to this community because of its culture, because its character and I see that is being threatened by some things that are going on with the outside forces.”
Steeby did not elaborate on what was being threatened or what “outside forces” he was referring to.
“As far as what qualifies me, the only qualifications that are necessary for the position is to be a citizen, pay my taxes and not be a criminal,” Steeby said. “I meet those qualifications.”
ABDELGAWAD: The incumbent has served on the council for 10 years. Abdelgawad referred to her time volunteering for the schools, including being active with the Parent Teacher Association and the Raymore Parks and Recreation Department. Before joining the city council, she was on the Raymore Park Board, active with the Belton-Raymore Rotary Club, as well as a member of the Sunrise Optimist Club.
PFEILER: Pfeiler brought up community relations with his farm. Specifically, he opens his farm to families and groups for tours. He also feels that he has a good pulse on what residents want based on countless interactions he has at the farmer’s market.
HOLMAN: A resident for nearly three decades, soccer coach for 15 years, and 17 years of service to the city, including nearly seven years on the Planning and Zoning Commission, nearly three years on the Park Board and is the incumbent with eight years as a council member.
“I think we’ve done some fantastic things to make the lives better for our citizens,” Holman said about his time with the current city council.
CIRCO: Circo sat on the Board of Adjustments in 2017 before being elected as a council member for Ward 2 in 2018, a position he currently holds. He has been a business owner for more than 25 years and a member of the Chamber of Commerce for more than 20 years, giving the perspective of both residents and businesses in Raymore.
Circo has also been involved with the Ray-Pec Public School Foundation’s Caring About Nutrition program, Raymore Festival in the Park and several other charities.
TOWNSEND: A 12-year resident, Townsend has spent half his time in Raymore on the city council. He referred to his bio which mentions his more than 20 years with the U.S. Marine Corps before his current role as a federal employee.
In addition to being a deacon in his church, Townend is also a member of the Board of Trustees for Belton Regional Medical Center, appointed by the governor to the Kanas City Area Transit Authority’s Board of Commissioners (vice chairman), and appointed by the Cass County Commissioners to the Total Transportation Policy Committee for the Mid-America Regional Council.
How do you envision Raymore in five to 10 years?
TOWNSEND: Referring to the 19% growth since the last U.S. Census, Townsend said Raymore is poised to surpass Belton in population within five years. Based on the last budget, Townsend said the city has grown by 39% since 2006.
With that said, the incumbent said the council needs to be careful when making future decisions. Specifically, he said single-family homes cannot be grouped into one area.
Additionally, Townsend has been fighting for more funding and visibility regarding traffic mitigation in Raymore, which he says has been ignored by the Kansas City metro. Sitting on two transportation commissions, he said improvements to Highway 58 should be addressed over the next five years.
CIRCO: The Ward 2 incumbent also sees more growth in Raymore’s future. He agrees with Townsend’s assessment that Raymore will surpass Belton in growth. Circo mentioned the parks and new businesses when addressing how the city is ready for that growth.
Circo emphasized that there cannot be growth without a solid budget, which he believes Raymore has had and will continue to have. He said there’s a reason why people want to come to Raymore.
“We have the city that everyone wants to be, and we work very hard to keep that and make sure we can afford it,” Circo said.
HOLMAN: Improved transportation structure and infrastructure is what Holman sees in Raymore’s not-too-distant future. Holman brought up the Interstate 49 widening project and the Highway 58 bridge improvement when discussing of what is already in the books. There is also talks about an I-49 flyover bridge at Lucy Webb Road.
Holman also sees more and improved Parks and Recreation amenities. He mentioned Hawk Ridge and T.B. Hanna Station as examples of what the department has already accomplished in recent years. Additionally, the current council member says Raymore will be the same safe community in 5-10 years as it is now.
Lastly, Holman sees more economic development. Specifically, he wants more of the restaurants and retail establishments that residents have been asking for.
PFEILER: In the five years Pfeiler has lived in Raymore, the Raymore population has grown by a few thousand people. Pfeiler believes that rapid growth rate will continue over the next decade.
“Raymore is a beautiful place to live in. We moved here because the school district was awesome, there is low crime, the fire department/EMS is real quick to almost everybody,” Pfeiler said. “Those are all attributes that people look for. They want that for their families, that way everyone’s safe.”
He hopes those attributes will draw in businesses to offset the tax levy.
ABDELGAWAD: Echoing the other candidates’ vision of continued growth, Abdelgawad said the goal of the city council is to make Raymore a place where people live, work and play. She said a big piece of that is growing businesses in the city. As a commuter city, Abdelgawad said that by facilitating growth for businesses, more residents can work where they live.
On the residential side, Abdelgawad wants the city to offer multiple housing opportunities. She said many residents want to spend their lifecycle in Raymore, but need housing options that fit every stage of life, e.g. a good school district for children, rental options for young professionals, etc.
Abdelgawad also envisions more fluid traffic and maintaining plenty of green space. Community events will allow Raymore to keep that smalltown vibe.
STEEBY: Less enthusiastic about Raymore’s growth, Steeby said if the city does not “temper” the growth, then the city will “end up looking like Grandview.” He said there are concerns about how the city will pay for the aforementioned infrastructure and transportation improvements.
In what appeared to be criticism of the current Raymore government, Steeby said the city cannot spend money if it is not collecting money by giving discounts on property taxes.
“If everybody wants to come here so much, then why are we begging them to come here by giving discounts to do it?” Steeby said.
Steeby went on to say that the city should focus on business growth, which he claims will attract people to move to Raymore.
What is something you would like to see changed after you are elected and why?
HOLMAN: Perhaps responding to Steeby’s comment about tempering growth, Holman mentioned that change is just a natural part of the “very well managed growth” of Raymore. He said that the city’s decisions are based on feedback from residents. Therefore, Holman said, the city will continue “to give back small victories to the citizens of Raymore.”
CIRCO: Circo was hesitant to use the word “change,” stating that Raymore is already heading in the right direction with the current mayor and council. He would like to see more restaurants and retail businesses.
Applauding the city’s finances, Circo said Raymore is “one of the highest fundamentally sound financial cities anywhere around.” He said the city could have taxed the people last year, but it did not see where it needed to.
“We’re not going to tax the people…if we don’t have to, like some other cities around close to us do,” Circo said.
TOWNSEND: Attributing change to the residents, Townsend said the council makes decisions based on community feedback. Citizens expressed a desire for more park programs, and that is what they received.
“We are an evolving community receiving input from the community,” Townsend said. “That’s why our park system is where it’s at today.”
Over the last several years, the city has added several Parks and Recreation amenities, including Hawk’s Nest, the Raymore Activity Center and Centerview. The latest general obligation bond further expands the park system.
Townsend would like to see community feedback continue steering the ship when it comes to change.
STEEBY: For Steeby, the biggest change that needs to be realized in Raymore is “engagement at the polls.” He claimed that Raymore’s voter turnout during a general election is around 80% and 8-10% during spring elections.
“That’s disgusting,” Steeby said. “That’s a slap in the face to anybody that’s ever fought or died for the right to vote or the people that have gone to war to make sure that our land is peaceful.”
Steeby continued by calling for more government transparency.
ABDELGAWAD: Abdelgawad said that in the last 10 years, the city has been proactive rather than reactive when it comes to change. She would like to see some change regarding the most popular topic in citizen surveys: transportation. Although primarily on the Belton side, Raymore has been working with county and state officials on the I-49 widening project, which is the change Abdelgawad is most looking forward to.
PFEILER: Applauding the current council’s work on maintaining infrastructure, Pfeiler said he would like to be part of that team to keep the ball rolling.
Final comments from candidates
CIRCO: Spending his final 60 seconds expressing his love for the city, Circo emphasized the progress that has been made during his last two terms and that he has more great ideas for a third term.
TOWNSEND: Running for reelection, Townsend mentioned the list of boards and commissions he currently sits on. He also pointed out the progress that has been made during his time on the council.
STEEBY: Going for the “outsider” appeal, Steeby said he has no desire to be a politician and is running for council because he was asked to.
“I’d rather scrape hog sheds on a hot summer day,” Steeby said.
ABDELGAWAD: Abdelgawad also touted the city’s success during her 10 years on the council. She also invited the community, especially Ward 4 residents, to reach out if they have any input regarding city matters.
PFEILER: Crediting the city for helping his family’s farm “by leaps and bounds.”
“I feel that this is my chance to be able to give back to them, to be an asset, to be their voice, and to be a liaison from the residents to the city,” Pfeiler said.
HOLMAN: Having spent his life servicing others through his profession, volunteer work and time on boards and commissions, Holman said people should vote for him because he will “continue to do the same solid job.”
Holman also said he is “trying to claim your final eight,” i.e. he wants people to spend more time in Raymore.
“We’ve been accused of being a bedroom community,” Holman said. “If you divide the day in 24 hours – eight hours sleeping, roughly, eight hours working – what do you do with your other eight?”