PAVE forum: City candidates talk Blue Zones
Last week PAVE (Pottawatomie Advocates for Voter Education) hosted a candidate forum for 10 hopefuls running for offices relating to the Shawnee City Commission.
Among several community-generated questions, residents wanted to know what the four mayoral and six ward candidates had to say about pushing the Blue Zones Project and the recent, but controversial Broadway bike lane plan.
• Mayoral candidate current Ward 1 City Commissioner Ed Bolt was asked a question specifically directed at him regarding ties to his property at 420 E. Main St. that houses the Blue Zones Project's office space.
“Blue Zones does not pay me for use of that building; that's done by a group known as Sharecare … and I know why that question was asked,” he said. “As soon as we had to vote on that issue, I went to the city legal and got an opinion from them, on whether I should vote on that issue or not, and I followed the advice of counsel.”
Regarding whether he would bring back the bike lane project, he said he doesn't see it happening.
“Truthfully, the issue is not the bike lanes, … the big issue was parking,” he said. “And I made it very clear to folks that I talked with that I did not want to take away their parking.”
He said the city never had a design so it is hard to know what it may have been like.
“We never got that far; there never was anything to look at,” Bolt said.
• Mayoral candidate downtown business owner Theresa Cody also was singled out with a question noting her social media posts show “strong opposition” to the Blue Zones Project, and asking if she would repeal any of the many Blue Zones-related resolutions the city has already passed and supported by 7,700 residents, worksites, restaurants, grocery stores and schools.
“I would look at the situation and see if it was something that would need to be (repealed) or not; again, I would let the citizens know that their choices are their choices,” she said.
Regarding whether she would bring back the bike lane project, Cody said she would have to look at it on a case-by-case basis.
“That particular setup I would not bring back; it would have to be a totally different idea,” she said.
• Mayoral candidate current Ward 3 City Commissioner Ron Gillham Sr. said so much of the bike lane situation was due to his giving a fourth vote to that and ruining it so desperately he was thinking of leaving the commission.
“My prime directive, I finally came down to it, was actually put people first, development second,” he said. “I realized I had crossed my prime directive.”
People backing out of the driveways, backing into multiple lanes is something — especially elderly people — is more than I could live with.”
Absolutely not, he said.
• Mayoral candidate local business owner Dean Hudlow said he would not bring back the bike lane project.
“In addition to what they already said, it seems to me that it's tearing up a lot of the community with the disagreements with each other,” he said, “so somebody's going to have to be a lot smarter than the most of us to bring something like that again to keep (out) that kind of haggling with each other — we don't need that.”
• Ward 2 candidate GCTC instructor Elliot Shuler said he thinks the city is very blessed to have the Avedis Foundation — to be able to have that kind of money that comes into this community to help its residents.
“I will treat Blue Zones like we treat any entity that has their own board, they're a nonprofit,” he said. “Just the same way I treat the YMCA.”
If they decide they want to be a part of a city project or partner with the city on something, he would look at that and determine whether or not it fits the needs of the citizens of Shawnee.
“If it's something that will benefit Shawnee, I will have no problem approving something for them,” he said, “but I would not push for a private organization.”
Regarding whether he would bring back the bike lane project, he said would not.
“I have heard a number of people in my ward and others that were not in favor of it,” he said. “The only way I would entertain that idea is if there is overwhelming support form the community.”
He said he is for any situation that supports opportunities to make Shawnee better and enhance the quality of life, but is also for it if it's the right place and right time, the right amount of taxpayer dollars — and only if residents overwhelmingly support it.
“If it's not overwhelming support, I would not support it,” he said.
• Ward 2 candidate former legislator Bob Weaver said Blue Zones is here to stay.
“The Avedis Foundation has just funded the Blue Zones Project for another seven years, it is my understanding,” he said. “It is a worthy project, I am not opposed to Blue Zones; I think they have their place and their agendas.”
They will come to the city for discussion at some point, and when it does, he said he will thoroughly review what they are asking the city to do.
Regarding whether he would bring back the bike lane project, he, too, said he would not support it.
“Not under the present conditions,” he said.
• Ward 3 candidate Incumbent James Harrod said he voted against the bike lanes, and the reason he did is because the city didn't have the money to do it with.
“The Broadway Project had just been done a few years ago so we had already passed the planning stage and it wasn't feasible as far as I was concerned,” he said.
Regarding whether he would bring back the bike lane project, he wouldn't because the city's financial situation hasn't improved.
“As a matter of fact, my vote on opposing the bike lanes and the engineering was probably a good vote, since the pandemic came along we just cut our budget for next year overall 10 percent,” Harrod said. “Collections were down, we didn't collect 100 percent of our budget this year, so those are monies we don't need to spend — we won't need to for the next couple years, either.”
• Ward 3 candidate Community Renewal's Travis Flood said he doesn't think the city should push projects that don't benefit the City of Shawnee.
“If a project comes in and somebody has an idea or something that can make Shawnee a better, safer, more inclusive, more healthy place, I think it should be looked at,” he said. “There's got to be information that's given to us and there has to be public support.”
Sometimes ideas have to be put out there so the community can see them to know if they fit, he said.
“Whatever project — whether it be Blue Zones or some other organization — if it benefits Shawnee, if it benefits its people, I think we, as a city, should look at it,” he said. “I don't think anybody should just push a project based on their own desire; I think it should all be based on our city and the best thing for its people.”
Regarding whether he would bring back the bike lane project, he said he thinks the project may or may not be something that could be revisited in the future.
“I also believe bike lanes — not just on Broadway — could be though about everywhere,” he said. “If there's an opportunity to make a safer route for people to travel through our city, that do not have cars, I think we should look at it.”
He said the Broadway bike lane project might not have been the best place for it to start, but he believes there are places in Shawnee where it could be talked about.
“If it not be a bike lane, then an extended or widened sidewalk where people can travel throughout our city without being under threat of walking some of our busy streets,” he said. “I think bike lanes all across Shawnee would be a good thing to talk about.”
• Ward 4 candidate Incumbent Darren Rutherford said Blue Zones is not funded by the city, it's funded by Avedis.
“As far as pushing their agendas. I'm not going to push anyone's agenda that's not beneficial to the City of Shawnee as a whole,” he said.
Regarding whether he would bring back the bike lane project, he said he wouldn't bring it back as it was.
“We didn't have a design, we didn't have information, but because of public concern, which we understood and listened to, that's a past project in my opinion,” he said.
• Ward 4 candidate local business owner LaDonna Bryce said she will not push Blue Zones' agenda.
“If you look at Blue Zones' mantra and their goals it is social engineering — they state that themselves,” she said. “I think there are other avenues that could accomplish the very same goal.”
Regarding whether she would bring back the bike lane project, she said no, she would not bring the bike lanes back as they were designed.
“I think there's a need for possible bike lanes, but not to take someone's parking and to take their ability to entertain their company — to take that away from them, I'm not a proponent of that,” she said.
Watch for more stories about questions and responses from candidates in The Shawnee News-Star or online at news-star.com.
Also, PAVE is hosting another forum for county and state candidates at 7 p.m. Thursday at Shawnee City Hall. Due to COVID-19 precautions, residents cannot attend the meeting; they must view the forum live on the city website at shawneeok.org; or on Vyve cable channel 3.
This forum will feature State Senate Dist. 17 candidates Brandon Baumgarten, Shane Jett and Ron Sharp; Senate Dist. 28 candidates Christian Ford, Mike Haines and Zack Taylor; Dist. 2 County Commissioner candidates Jason Evans and Randy Thomas; and sheriff candidates Mike Booth, Jeff Griffith and Ben Henderson.
Since a live audience has been cancelled due to COVID-19 precautions, residents can email questions through 5 p.m. Tuesday at firstname.lastname@example.org to allow time for screening.