By: Ernie Wren
I think it is great the Southern Boone Chamber of Commerce is hosting a “Meet the Candidates” virtual forum, and I highly recommend attending it online. I do long for the days where one could listen to the candidates in person, look them in the eye, and ask serious questions and answers.

The event is being held on Monday, March 25th, at 7pm. You can find access information online at the Chamber’s Facebook page and website.

I hope the candidates are asked to respond to deeper questions than the usual “what do you feel is most important…,” etc. Voters need to know specifics on current and past promises as well as the issues. They need to be able to ask questions and receive answers with depth.

According to his election website, mayoral candidate Loren Plank “pledges to modernize the existing swimming pool to provide state-of-the-art facilities for families and individuals.” It sounds great, but let’s dig in on the details. Given that the community pool is owned and operated by the Ashland Optimist Club, exactly how does Mr. Plank expect to pay for improvements? Would this be through new public taxes, given the current parks budget is only sufficient to maintain and meet current needs? How will the pool grounds be expanded, given that it is surrounded by school district owned parking? The pool is thirty plus years old, and according to previous concrete repair bids, it’s difficult to update because of the risk of cracking the entire pool.

While on topic of recreational activities, whatever happened to the fundraising for a $500,000 skate park Mr. Plank helped initiate? His website also commits to “introducing a full-time resource officer in schools,” although this has been done twice in the past, unsuccessfully, due to budget and oversight constraints. He “proposes stringent regulatory measures on adult entertainment events” without going into specifics. I admire Mr. Plank’s desire to put forth ideas, but we need to filter what is realistic, and what are simply “campaign promises.” I appreciate him contacting me to discuss his ideas and will update on that soon.

Also up for election is Mayor Dorise Slinker. He is a very amicable and friendly Mayor, who has admirably used his social talents for fundraising and supporting local events. The question is, how does he view the successes and challenges of his first two years as mayor in reflection to what he promised during his campaign.

First, he promised increased transparency. Has that happened with recent events, and if not, why? Why was the public forum scheduled by the city regarding the former police chief’s actions and status suddenly cancelled the night before, with a settlement being reached which included the usual non-disclosure clauses? Does the mayor feel that the recent election loss of the sewer treatment plant improvements was indicative of mistrust by voters for city administration?

There was also the election promise to be more business friendly and increasing the business presence within Ashland. Has this happened? Does the mayor feel that Ashland is “business friendly” when the tax rate was increased to a point higher than that of Columbia? Sure, it was passed by voters, but was this due to a large financial push by the city and the Chamber of Commerce, some members of which own businesses that are not impacted by retail tax rates?

As for the school board, we are fortunate to have three candidates running for two positions, giving voters a choice. Where do the candidates stand on open enrollment, which allows students to transfer between districts that have opted in? Where do they stand on standards-based grading? Do they feel that the district has grown to a point at which school resource officers are needed, and if so, how would this be implemented and funded?

This is not meant as criticism of any of the above candidates, as their efforts are appreciated. But rather, I put these questions forth as a hope that important, specific issues will be discussed, and that a high number of voters will find this event of value and tune in to the virtual forum. The questions and issues raised above might be answered with complete, solid, and detailed information. Let’s hope the forum provides such answers to these, and many other important issues.

I’m also happy to see something coming that is near and dear to my heart, namely a “Fundraiser to Knock Out Student Lunch Debt”. As a former child who grew up having lunch via the free/reduced school lunch program, I can attest personally how important it is for students. It not only impacts their health, but their academic focus.

Thank you, Dorise Slinker, and the Southern Boone Lunch Ladies, for organizing this event, which will be held on March 16th, Saturday, 11am to 6pm, in the Southern Boone School District’s middle school cafeteria. It is also a great way to experience Bev Steelman’s famous spaghetti along with garlic bread, salad, dessert and a drink.

If anyone, or organization, has stories and/or events they’d like me to put in “Around Town”, email me at and I’ll see what I can do. To all the candidates running in the April 2nd election, THANK YOU.

Remember that the only way to not offend anyone is by doing nothing. Fortunately for both Ashland and Southern Boone you are willing to put yourselves out there for your community.