Sunday, March 18, 2007

A Time to Butt Heads

“Hang on tight, spur hard, and let ‘er buck.”

- Cowboy Proverb

The various candidate forums will be held over the next couple of weeks. It’s time to butt heads. More appropriately, it’s time to butt heads without being butt heads.

I’ve had several conversations lately with folks who want to know what I would do about “them” if I’m elected to the city commission. It’s a question that’s framed to take me through a political minefield. Without actually saying it, the questioners are asking what I would do about the growing number of Hispanics, some of whom are here illegally, who work for some of this town’s manufacturers. If I’m so pro-development, the reasoning goes, I must surely be for getting rid of “them.” So, if I support “them,” I must be against economic development.

This is my position. I’m pro security! I’m pro immigration! First, as a city commissioner I would have no power to build a two thousand mile fence stretching from Texas to California. If it were in my power to deal with our borders I believe we can find, as America has in the past, a much saner, just, and cost effective method of fixing the problem. As for Emporia, I have absolutely no desire to support building a wall around this city to keep “them” out.
It’s been said so often now that it’s become a rallying cry for the world’s huddled masses. This is a nation of immigrants. I’m a first generation American myself. The Pilgrims, many of whom were escaping religious persecution, were immigrants here in the seventeenth century and their children were first generation Americans themselves. So were the Dutch who settled New York. The Irish came here to escape the Potato Famine and built our railroads, with the help of Chinese immigrants. The telephone was invented by Alexander Graham Bell, a Scottish immigrant. The great physicist Albert Einstein was an immigrant from Germany. And who hasn’t delighted to the music of Irving Berlin, a Russian immigrant.

I have a firm belief that the majority of immigrants escaping the poverty of Mexico and Central America want to be a vibrant part of that great tradition. I also have the firm belief that this country can solve the illegal immigration problem without descending into demagoguery. That’s my position. If it loses me votes, so be it.

I have other positions as well. I outlined them for the Gazette and they’ll be published sometime next week. They follow, unedited.

Candidate Profile/Political Positions

Name: Phil Dillon
Age: 64
Occupation: Very actively retired from FedEx (Logistics)
Education: Bachelor of Arts (Communications/Linguistics)
Master of Arts (Biblical Theology)
Personal: Married to my wife Nancy for twenty years. Three children (Jarrod, Beth, Michael), three grandchildren (Ashley, Joshua, Rebeccah). Member of Emporia Lions Club (second vice-president), elected to pastor’s advisory council (Victory Fellowship), writer, community activist.

1. Why are you running for this office?

This city needs responsible, servant leadership, committed to serving all Emporians. Our current leadership has given us high taxes, high poverty rates, businesses leaving, slum lords profiting, and economic decline. I’m committed to reversing that course, revitalizing downtown and bringing 21st century jobs paying 21st century wages to Emporia.

2. If you’re elected, what are your goals?

Give our police officers and firefighters a three to five percent raise
Decrease the city’s portion of the mill levy by 8 to 10 mills in the short term and by 20 mills in the long term.
Actively enforce livability codes
Decrease the administrative cost of city government by 25%.
Revitalize downtown.
Increase median household incomes in Emporia by 20% by bringing in 21st century jobs paying 21st century wages.

3. How will the city commission be better with you as a member?

First, the professional model I worked under for seventeen years at FedEx was the servant-leader. In practice that meant that organizational charts were inverted, with managers serving front-line employees who in turn served FedEx’s customers. That model has made FedEx one of the most successful and admired business enterprises in the world. Second, I have the professional results. I took a high cost logistics operation on the east coast and reduced inventory investments by over $4,000,000 and increased service to FedEx’s customers from 65% to 98% on time. My career was filled with examples like that.

4. What do you think is the biggest issue facing the city and how would you resolve it?

The biggest issue facing Emporia is economic decline. Our median household incomes are 27% below the Kansas average and 37% below the national average. Our poverty rate is a staggering 17.9%! Businesses and jobs are leaving Emporia. This vicious cycle must be broken. It begins with tax policy. The city must immediately reduce its portion of the mill levy by 8 to 10 mills and set an intermediate goal of reducing the levy by another 10 to 12 mills. This can be done through sound management, consolidations within administrative departments, and fiscal discipline. We must also use the available seed capital in the industrial development account and the sale of Lake Kahola wisely to support educational opportunity scholarships, parks, infrastructure, 21st century business ventures and 21st century jobs. This is the pro-development, pro-taxpayer approach that will increase median household incomes, decrease poverty, and revitalize this city. Some say this approach is too ambitious, that Emporia doesn’t have the skill-sets necessary. I don’t believe that! We have a great university and technical college. We’ve got decent, hard working people. Emporia can again be a truly first class city. We need to change direction and begin the long march forward.

5. What should the city commission’s priorities be when it plans a budget?

The primary role of city leadership is to be servants and this ethic should be reflected in the budgeting process. The priority should be service. The outcome of that process should be a budget that is lean, efficient, and provides the services all its citizens pay for. This model would go a long way toward regaining the trust and good will of Emporia’s citizens.

6. Looking to the future, what are three things you’d like to see happen in the city commission?

First, I’d like to see property taxes decreasing. Second, I’d like to see economic and cultural revitalization, borne of a vibrant partnership between the city, our institutions of higher learning, civic groups, churches, religious organizations, economic and commercial developers. Third, I have a dream that Emporians now living on the economic margins will one day be able to claim their share of the American dream and become stake holders in the 21st century ownership society.

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