A candidate running for office needs to be transparent with voters about who they are, what they believe in and what they will do to serve their constituents.

In an election season, a multitude of forums can be useful. But recent plans to hold one such forum in Shawnee were thwarted because of a lack of participation by the Republican candidates, which would have left the forum one-sided.

A forum set to be sponsored by Shawnee Forward Business Alliance and funded by The Shawnee News-Star at Gordon Cooper Technology Center was being planned for next week. The forum was aimed at educating the public and local business members about the candidates running for district attorney and the District 26 House seat.

Unfortunately, the two Republican candidates running in both of those local races weren't going to be there.

Republican District Attorney candidate Allan Grubb immediately declined participation while Democratic candidate Adam Panter agreed to be there. When asked recently why he declined, Grubb sent an email response that didn't really answer why he wouldn't attend, indicating he hoped to participate in a forum that “is fair and balanced” at the appropriate time in the election cycle.

Initially, both District 26 candidates — Republican incumbent Dell Kerbs and Democrat Terry Hopkins — agreed to attend, but two weeks later, Kerbs backed out, citing another event the same evening.

While it appears he does have an event to attend the same night, there was discussion by the Shawnee Forward board in a public meeting last week that Kerbs said he was concerned that the forum would be too “partisan.”

The candidates questioned why Shawnee Forward would hold a forum in the first place.

The answer is simple.

When Tracy Qualls was hired this summer, members of the board told her they wanted the Shawnee business community to have a bigger footprint in this area. A forum like this is very much in line with what she was charged with accomplishing as the new group's director.

Amid the concerns though, Shawnee Forward reached out to PAVE — Pottawatomie County Advocates for Voter Education — and asked to join forces for a forum. PAVE, formerly the League of Women Voters, decided to hold its own forum in October.

“PAVE has a strong reputation for nonpartisanship and candidates prefer our forum, which speaks well for our dedicated and conscientious members,” said PAVE president Marilyn Bradford.

PAVE usually holds forums at every election. And while they do a good job, other forums can and should be happening in our area. In fact, multiple forums can only benefit the community and help voters in their decision-making process.

Candidates who are running for office, and who are asking for the public to pay them a salary to do a job, owe voters the chance to ask questions, see them interact with their opponent, and yes, find out more about where they stand on the issues.

Candidates should be accessible at any forum — not just the forums they “prefer.”

The real question is why the Shawnee Forward organization wouldn't have been doing forums all along. Education groups hold education forums and no one questions the motives.

When a group wants to bring candidates together with the business community in a bi-partisan public forum, suddenly candidates who should be looking for every opportunity to meet with potential voters get cold feet.