The Scottsbluff/Gering United Chamber of Commerce held candidate forums for the Gering mayor, city council and school board positions on Thursday, October 6. These were organized by the House Government Affairs Committee.
Bill Boyer, co-chair of the committee, posed a series of questions to the candidates. They had 90 seconds each to answer the questions. They could have 30 more seconds to follow up on their answers when everyone was done.
Gering’s next mayor will be either Kent Ewing, a local business owner, or former Gering High School principal Eldon Hubbard. Current mayor Tony Kaufman has chosen not to run.
The two candidates were asked about how to fill vacancies in city offices and meet electricity costs while maintaining service levels.
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“The City of Gering needs to be aggressive in pursuing business… (and) helping businesses grow. They inflate tax revenue and relieve some of the strain on infrastructure,” Ewing said.
Hubbard also recommended building businesses as well as expanding housing options.
“We must, as there is a need for housing in the region, increase our tax base by increasing the availability of housing,” he said.
To fill vacancies, Ewing suggested active outreach while Hubbard said he would advertise the city’s best qualities.
When offering ideas for additional housing, Hubbard recommended asking lawmakers to renew federal financial assistance. Ewing said he would recommend waiting for inflation to come down.
Hubbard recommended targeted retail as a way to bring businesses to the city, while Ewing suggested existing businesses could help start-ups.
Both Ewing and Hubbard have said whether or not Scottsbluff is opting out of a landfill deal, that Gering should find ways to limit the landfill’s spread and extend its life. They also said they would promote city amenities by marketing both inside and outside the community.
GERING TOWN HALL, DISTRICT I
The two candidates vying for the Ward I open seat are Anthony Mason and Rebecca Shields. Mason is the director of the Riverside Discovery Center. Shields is a member of the Oregon Trail Days board of directors and other committees. Shields has previously served on the board.
Mason said he wanted to promote tourism and create an environment conducive to business.
“I think it’s a wonderful community with a lot to offer and I want to continue to make it a business-friendly community and create an environment where young families can grow,” he said.
Shields said she wanted to improve the city’s business district and grow the community.
She said she wanted to “continue to work with whatever citizens want in our city. On an organizational chart of our city, the citizens are on the front line so I am there to represent them.
Candidates were asked how they would cope with rising electricity costs while maintaining service levels.
“We need to explore more solar power, more wind power,” Shields said. “We need to work with other municipalities to see what they are doing so we can incorporate what works for us. Even if it’s trial and error, we have to do something and see what we can do to reduce these costs for everyone.
Mason said the city should enter into solar power partnerships and lock in long-term rates.
“One of the city’s goals … is to try to meet those costs, minimizing how much you have to raise prices to get there,” he said. “I think anytime you can diversify your energy supply…it will help maintain a stable supply and stable price rates over the long term.”
To increase workforce housing, Shields recommended adding apartments to downtown buildings, while Mason suggested increasing the availability of multi-family units.
Mason said the city should strengthen local entrepreneurial programs to encourage retail and consider joint marketing with Scottsbluff. Shields suggested staying on top of LB 840 and TIF funding and having incubator startups.
Mason and Shields both said Gering should work with other communities if Scottsbluff pulls out of a landfill deal and continues to promote recycling. They also recommended new events at various locations to acquaint people with the different conveniences of the city.
Six candidates are vying for the three vacancies on the Gering Public Schools Board of Education. Four of them – Krista Baird, John Maser, Greg Trautman and incumbent Brian Copsey – answered questions Thursday. Candidates Kolene Woodward and Justin Reinmuth were unable to attend, but Woodward provided a statement to read.
“I’m running for the Gering School Board because I want to see Gering back at the top of the school ladder. I think this can be accomplished by retaining good teachers through good policy, supporting teachers with a good curriculum (and) having a curriculum that focuses on reading, writing, math, science and the history of government and not about the latest trends in education,” Woodward wrote.
The lessons of the pandemic
Boyer asked the candidates what lessons could be learned from how schools operate during the coronavirus pandemic. Copsey said he was proud of how the school had succeeded, including sending staff to check on children who had had trouble with homework and working to give internet access to students who didn’t. had none.
Trautman said while online learning should be used where appropriate, in-person learning is also important.
“While we can do some things virtually, that may not be the ideal setting. While integrating technology into our classrooms, we also need to be aware of how they (students) interact and the value of in-person instruction,” he said.
Baird and Maser agreed. Baird said parents need to be involved in their children’s learning and she felt online learning aggravated some emotional issues in students. Maser said online learning has proven difficult for many children.
“Technology in the classroom is amazing, but there’s something to be said for teachers in the classroom and hands-on teaching,” he added.
When asked what areas they think the district’s career academy should expand into, Baird and Maser said the priority should be to make existing programs the best they can be.
“I think there’s a lot of good stuff happening already and (we should) keep building on that,” Baird said.
Trautman offered more financial literacy programs.
“I think exposure to simple things like paying your taxes (or) how to apply for a mortgage and get a mortgage might help them later,” he said.
Copsey suggested health sciences, veterinary medicine and additional mechanical programs as potential areas for expansion and said the district could deepen these by continuing to partner with Western Nebraska Community College.
None of the candidates wanted to turn exclusively to state funding to support the constituency.
“Nebraska has traditionally had one of the best education systems in the country, so obviously we’re doing something right. We can always make improvements to funding, but handing it over to the state is not the solution,” Copsey said.
Maser and Trautman said the local district would have less control if it were state-funded. Baird suggested considering grants and other funding sources rather than state control.
Additionally, each candidate viewed teacher retention and support as a major issue to address if elected or re-elected. Maser also identified school retention and mental health as important issues.
The contestants all agreed that they would not be in favor of biological boys competing on girls’ teams at sporting events.