Cass County candidates sound off during forum

Newspaper hosts forum to introduce voters to candidates

bbashioum@demo-mo.comAugust 1, 2014 

Cass County Circuit Clerk candidate Kim York had perhaps the easiest question targeted at her during the July 29 countywide candidate forum hosted by the Democrat Missourian newspaper.

York, a Republican, was asked about how she would envision the daily operations of the county’s Circuit Clerk office one year from today, she responded with only three words and a speck of banter in her voice.

“Organized and effective,” York said.

York’s remark was the only answer of the night to get a round of applause from voters who gathered at the Harrisonville Community Center to listen to candidates sound off on a series of questions and answers before heading to the polls Aug. 5 to vote in the primary election.

More than 140 people attended the event. The newspaper hosts the forum as an opportunity for voters to become more informed by having the opportunity to meet and hear from candidates running for public office.

York, a Raymore resident and current Cass County deputy auditor, is virtually assured the Circuit Clerk job. A few weeks ago she became unopposed on the August ballot after incumbent Amy Bell withdrew her name from the race as part of settlement in regard to criminal charges she was facing.

Bell was suspended from her circuit court duties a year ago by Cass County Judge William Collins, after he said she hired a close friend to oversee three special projects that were never completed.

The following month, Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster filed a civil ouster petition and misdemeanor criminal charges against Bell, saying she failed to perform duties required by law.

York also does not face an opponent on the November ticket.

Upon taking office, York said she plans to begin working alongside the Circuit Clerk’s Office staff to identify the processes and procedures of daily operations, improve customer service to members of the public, jurors, attorneys and judges, and create a strategy to be the best Circuit Clerk office in Missouri.

“There are 22 talented, experienced (employees) who have been working very diligently to hold things together under admittedly difficult circumstances over the past year,” York said. “I think they deserve our gratitude and praise for their hard work. ”

Democrat Missourian Publisher/Editor John Beaudoin moderated the forum, who also peaked questions at contested candidates running for the county’s presiding commissioner, associate circuit judge and auditor offices.

But not all of the questions were as easy as the one York received.

Directed at Republican auditor candidates Ron Johnson, the incumbent, and Ryan Wescoat, a Raymore councilman, Beaudoin quizzed a harder challenge at the rivalring pair who used to be colleagues.

The question: “You both worked with each other previously in the Auditor’s Office. What would you consider your biggest lesson learned during that time, and what did you learn by working with each other?”

“I think the biggest lesson that I learned was that I learned it’s important to have education and training behind you, especially with contracts,” Wescoat said. “There were a lot of issues with contracts. If you don’t understand the way their written and you don’t have that education behind you, you continually make mistakes.”

In 2011, Johnson fired Wescoat, who was his deputy auditor.

Exactly what led to that act is in dispute. Johnson said Wescoat passed along a document he knew to be not “a true and faithful affidavit” to a county commissioner so the county could get federal reimbursement.

“My greatest lesson learned is that I wouldn’t have hired Mr. Ryan Wescoat,” Johnson said. “What I learned from Mr. Wescoat is that sometimes there’s a great coating, and it looks really good and tasty, but if you forget to put the sugar into a brownie, it don’t taste real good. It’s what on the inside of a person that tells you if the job is getting done.”

Wescoat said he sent the affidavit but that he did so at the request of the commissioner and that the document was actually the property of the commission anyway. He has said he merely got in the middle of a fight between his boss, Johnson, and then-commissioner Brian Baker.

Whatever happened, Wescoat is now trying to put Johnson out of work.

“What I learned about working with Ron - you definitely have to stay on your toes and it’s important to stand up for your beliefs and stand up to do what’s right,” Wescoat said. “I always operate with integrity.”

Johnson argued throughout the night that Wescoat only gives half-truths, while his opponent offered a list of his business education and experience in an effort to curve voters that he is the most qualified man for the job.

The winner of the primary will face Democrat opponent Bill Smith during the November general election.

As the night went on, Meryl Lange and Stacey Lett spoke optimistically about the future of the county’s growing Associate Circuit Court dockets and court treatment programs.

Lett, Raymore’s municipal judge, is seeking to unseat Lange, the incumbent, to fill the open associate circuit judge bench. Both candidates are longstanding attorneys in the area.

Lange was appointed to the bench by Gov. Jay Nixon in January 2013 to succeed William Collins after his election as circuit judge.

The judges also talked about the need for consistency on the bench.

“Consistency in a judgment is so important because people who appear in front of you need to know how you’re going to you’re going to rule on a case,” Lange said. “If you have inconsistency, no one is going to know what will happen in your court. If you’re not consistent, then you have chaos.”

Lett said she also has a reputation for following the law and being a strict judge.

“It’s important to be consistent in your judgment on and off the bench to your values and morals,” Lett said. “You need to be predictable, you need to follow the law, and you need to make sure citizens and lawyers will know how you will generally apply the law. I know that in Raymore, I’ve been written about on the Internet that I’ve been tough and that I’m strict, but I always listen. People deserve to be heard in the courtroom.”

The Republican primary winner will be unopposed in the general election.

Rounding out the forum, attendees also had the opportunity to learn about the differences among Presiding Commissioner incumbent Jeff Cox and challenger Dave Morris in their quest for the top spot.

Morris communicated his desire to further tap the issue of economic development growth possibilities as his opponent, Cox, shared how he is passionate in restoring the basic services of county government.

“My plan ... is to bring forces together, with the new economic develop team the commission hired, and we have mayors from across the county who have asked to be more involved,” Morris said.

Cox said he believes Cass County is poised for economic development, but expressed his beliefs about putting taxpayer dollars back into the essentials of local government - road and bridges, facility management, codes and law enforcement.

Commissioner candidates also didn’t shy away from bringing up feisty subjects in Cass County’s political circles – talking about the failed broadband Internet service and a bio-generation power plant projects – from the county’s past.

The broadband project is now dead and in litigation. The Tri-Gen generator, intended to provide power for the Cass Justice Center, is now costing the county $175,000 in debt service annually for the next 20 years.

Cox reiterated the plan he’s made since taking office two years ago to pay off the debt that has been accumulated by the defunct boondoggle projects.

“The single, most important thing that not only the new commission has done, but even going back 10 years, is to kill the broadband project,” Cox said.

Shortly after taking office in January 2013, Cox and the commission were faced to make a decision about the future of the $40 million project.

“Our federal funding had been frozen by the USDA because the prior commission was two years behind on independent audits,” Cox said. “We were over budget on the project and there was no way the county was going to make the timetables involved. We decided to get out with our lives while we still could.”

The Presiding Commissioner primary winner will face Democrat Phil Duncan, a former Belton mayor, in November. Duncan is unopposed in the primary.

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