Anne Hassler Heidel is running for McPherson Commissioner of Public Works. The Buzz sent out a questionnaire to the candidates for city commission. Here are her responses:
Please give a biography of yourself so the voters can get to know you on a personal and professional level.
Heidel moved to McPherson with her family, including kids Emma, Matt and Jake, in 2006. Her work experience includes working as a reporter and later editor of the McPherson Sentinel. She served as director of the Convention and Visitors Bureau for the City of McPherson from 2009 to 2015 and implemented programs that not only attracted visitors but benefitted local residents such as the movies in the park, summer music series and downtown murals. Heidel began the weekly McPherson News newspaper with her husband Jeff in 2015 and later sold it in 2018. Heidel currently works for a local art gallery, volunteers with a refugee resettlement organization in Wichita and is taking graduate classes at Wichita State University in public administration.
Do you think our main street/downtown is healthy and successful? Why or why not?
I do think we have a vibrant downtown with a good mix of retail, restaurant and office space. Looked at as a whole, the downtown business area is one of the largest employers in the city and made up almost exclusively by locally-owned businesses. As a small business owner myself, I know the challenges of funding and finding quality employees. This is one area I would like to see the city become more pro-active in by creating a small business incubator with shared basic resources and guidance in developing a business plan, securing funding and tax document preparation. This could be funded with an administration fee charged to any business that receives a tax abatement or applies for IRBs.
What’s the one major issue you plan to address?
There are many important issues I’d like to address from street repairs to storm water drainage to more affordable housing. All of those issues require money. We need to grow our tax base to help pay for these projects. The best way we can do this is to use more common sense when it comes to industry tax abatements. We’ve reached a point where we have more jobs than workers so we should look at shorter abatement periods and more follow-through that the jobs and growth promised by industry is actually created. We need some guarantee that abated property goes onto the tax rolls when the abatement is over.
What makes you stand out from other candidates?
Other than the obvious extra Y chromosome, what makes me stand out is my willingness to look at issues from a different perspective. I’ve been a single mother, a small business owner and an observer of city government in McPherson for 13 years from both the inside and the outside. I’m currently taking public administration graduate classes to learn more about how and why government works the way it does. Just because “that’s how things have always been done” will never be a satisfactory answer for me.
How do you plan to involve residents in the decision-making process in our town?
Nearly every dispute that comes before the city commission in one way or another is a result of poor communication. I know city employees are hard workers but just like other professionals they can be mired down in the details and not see things from an outside perspective. I think efforts to educate the public about plans for streets and utilities has improved under Commissioner Wiens but we need to do more than just tell people what is going to happen. We need to listen to them in the early stages. I would do this by creating an advisory board with representatives from all areas of towns that meet monthly to discuss upcoming projects and long-range plans. While no one can make a decision that pleases 100% of the people, it will go a long way to know that their concerns were heard. Other departments like Parks and the CVB have advisory boards that serve as mediaries and advocates between residents and city staff and I think it would work with Public Works as well.
If you received a $1 million grant to use for the city any way you wanted, what would you do with it and why?
There are so many fun projects I’d like to see happen but creating a splash play pad on the plaza downtown would be particularly enjoyable I think. More practically, I’d put the money toward rehabilitating existing housing to create affordable places to live.
What neighborhood do you live in? Why? Where are your favorite places to spend time in our town?
I live in a big old house near the hospital. It was the most affordable space we could find that was big enough for all the kids and pets we have. I love the neighborhood for the beautiful trees and homes. I love our downtown area with the Opera House and remodeled community building. I volunteer at the McPherson Museum and love spending time there. I like the American Legion on Family Night. I’m a regular at Neighbor’s Café.
What do you know about how councils work?
I wish McPherson had a 5-person council with a city manager as opposed to a 3-person commission with a city administrator. I think too much power is in the hands of too few people with just 3 commissioners. The 3-person commission first came into being after a hurricane hit Galveston, Texas and the town needed to be rebuilt. Each commissioner was put in charge of a certain area of government as part of the rebuilding efforts. This caught on with other cities and McPherson adopted a 3-person commission in 1914. Most cities reverted back to a council form of government by the 1980s. I think it’s largely responsible for the lack of diversity in age and gender on our city commission.
What are your ‘red-line’ issues when it comes to budget votes?
Unregulated tax abatements. Sales tax increases on groceries and necessities.