Ten Parsons City Commission candidates, including an incumbent, will be on the ballot for Tuesday’s primary election.
The commission race is the only one in Labette County requiring a primary this year.
Tuesday’s vote will cut the field down to six candidates for the Nov. 5 general election. Voters can choose three candidates apiece, both in the primary and general elections. The city commission race is a nonpartisan contest, so everyone registered to vote in Parsons before the deadline can cast ballots for any of the candidates. For the general election, the two candidates receiving the most votes will earn four-year terms beginning in January, and the third-place candidate will win a two-year term.
Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday. Parsons residents in the 1st Ward vote at First Baptist Church, 1621 Main, in the 2nd Ward in the Parsons Municipal Building basement, in the 3rd Ward at First Christian Church, 1500 S. 29th, and in the 4th Ward at Parsons Middle School, 2710 Main.
The city commission field consists of incumbent Kevin Cruse and challengers Verlyn Bolinger, Leland Crooks, Jonna Gabbert, Sontana “Tana” Johnson, Braden Lett, Brady Magner, Ryan Robertson, Jeffrey Stammer and Eric Strait.
Seven of the candidates participated in a forum on July 26 at Parsons High School. The forum can be viewed on the Parsons USD 503 YouTube channel.
Bolinger is an agent with Farm Bureau Financial Services. He finished in fourth place in the 2017 general election.
Bolinger plans to dive into the budget if elected and find possible inefficiencies while also working toward improving the overall appearance of Parsons.
“I think we need to vote for some change,” Bolinger said. “We’re still being more reactive than proactive.”
Bolinger said some progress has been made, but there are some infrastructure needs that still haven’t been handled in the two years since his first run.
Crooks, who owns the local Grand Rental Station and online business Speaker Hardware, said he decided to run partly because of the small number of candidates as the deadline approached.
Crooks said it’s been a long time since a business owner has been on the commission because most think it’s not a good idea to be involved in politics while running a business, but he decided it was time to get involved and help out. Commissioner Jeff Perez is a co-owner of the Katy Golf Course, but he bought the course after being elected.
“I’ve lived here my entire life and never been involved in city politics, so maybe it is time to give back a little,” Crooks said.
Cruse is a retired Parsons Fire Department battalion chief who is now works as environmental services director at Parsons Presbyterian Manor. He has served on the commission since April 2011, when he won a four-year term. He was re-elected in April 2015 to another four-year term before the Kansas Legislature changed the date of local elections to the first Tuesday in November.
Cruse said people had been asking if he would run for re-election, and after discussing it with his wife, he decided to do it. Serving as commissioner has been interesting, he said, as he has gotten to know the city employees and how local government works.
“We have a good board, and I hope a new board lands and we still have a good one,” Cruse said.
Gabbert, who finished in fifth place in the 2017 election, is a targeted case manager at Residential Treatment Services of Southeast Kansas.
Gabbert also is a former Parsons Chamber of Commerce director. She said she has stayed involved in the chamber and as a volunteer at community events. Gabbert also serves or has served on several boards for various organizations.
Serving on the city commission would be another way she could try to give back to the community, Gabbert said.
Sontana ‘Tana’ Johnson
A need for change in the Parsons community is why Johnson decided to enter the race.
“I decided to run because I want to make a change. I want to make a change in the community on a lot of levels,” Johnson said.
Johnson, who is on disability, said now is the time to make a “real change.”
“I’m just ready,” she said.
Besides change, Johnson is also stressing a need for unity in the community.
Lett works in environmental services at Labette Health and is a recent graduate of Pittsburg State University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration. He went through the Army Reserve Officer Training Corps at Pittsburg State and was recently commissioned as a lieutenant in the Army Reserve. He also opened a new retail business, Bargain Bin, 1817 Crawford.
Lett said it is time his generation gets more involved in the community.
“The preceding generations have given much to the community for many years, and now I think it’s time for us millennials to get started,” Lett said.
Magner works in electrical computer-aided drafting at Power Flame.
A 2018 Parsons High School graduate, Magner said he became interested in national and world politics a few years ago and then more recently started following local politics. Despite his age, Magner decided to give running for local office a try, partly encouraged by the small number of candidates as the filing deadline drew close.
“I just really wanted to get involved and hopefully become a leader for other young people getting into local politics, because I think that is the most important,” Magner said.
Ryan Robertson, who has served on the Parsons Police Department and the Labette County Sheriff’s Department, now works full time at Ray Products Co. and is a part-time sheriff’s deputy.
Robertson has attended many commission meetings over the last few years after taking an interest in local government. He said he had been toying with the idea of running for commissioner for a long time.
“I saw an opportunity and thought now would be a good time to give it a shot,” Robertson said.
Robertson said he agrees with a lot of polices and decisions the commission has made but also sees some things that need to change.
Stammer is an information technology support technician for Tank Connection.
Stammer said he had read in the Sun that with only 10 days left before the filing deadline no one had joined the race. He said he asked his wife, “Why not me?”
Stammer said he was born and raised in Parsons and has lived here for 30 of his 32 years. He plans to stay here.
“I know this town and its people. Parsons is a great small town, but it needs some new ideas, and I want to be a part of that,” Stammer said.
Strait is the longtime manager of the local Taco Mayo and also co-owned a Taco Mayo for a while in Miami, Oklahoma.
Raising a child in Parsons, Strait has a vested interest in the city and school system.
“I just feel like I should get a little more involved,” he said.
Strait also said he can bring some business sense to the commission as well as a fresh perspective as a 34-year-old.
“I’m just running to bring a new perspective from a little bit younger generation,” Strait said.