7 candidates file for Leavenworth seat
A frenzy of activity to claim the Third District Leavenworth County Commissioner seat Joe Daniels will be vacating means that voters will have an opportunity to choose between seven candidates, one Democrat and six Republicans.
Republicans Ken Rahjes, Dean Oroke, Richard Brauer Fauna Dean, Marvin Torneden and John Gallion all will square off in an Aug. 3 primary election. Democrat Jerry Willburn will wait until the Nov. 2 general election before he faces opposition.
For Tonganoxie resident Ken Rahjes, running for a county commission seat is a way to serve the greater community.
And the 38-year-old father of four believes it's a pivotal time for Leavenworth County.
Recent growth in the county necessitates good management, Rahjes said.
"I think that what we've seen in growth in the county is that we do have some challenges, but through those challenges, there are some tremendous opportunities," he said. "One of the main reasons I'm running is to do my part to maintain the quality of life we've come to expect in the county."
Rahjes would like to examine whether to hire a county manager.
"If we look at that, the possibility of finding cost-savings and the possibility of lowering taxes might be there," he said.
And Rahjes, who filed for office by collecting signatures on a petition, said he's discovered that taxes and roads are important to area residents. He said he believes everyone must "share in those growing pains."
"We all want good roads, but sometimes we think it's somebody else's responsibility," Rahjes said.
To increase accessibility to southern Leavenworth County residents, Rahjes would like to maintain office hours at the county annex, which is at Laming Road and U.S. Highway 24-40 in Tonganoxie. In addition, he'd like the county to move more quickly toward making services available on-line.
"Since we do have a lot of folks who commute, let's make governmental services available on-line and convenient when it's convenient to the customer," he said.
Rajhes, who has lived in Tonganoxie for three years, has served for a year on the Tonganoxie Public Library board and was appointed its treasurer last September. He and his family are members of West Haven Baptist Church.
He currently is completing a bachelor's degree at Kansas State University in Manhattan and is vice president of marketing for Association Resources and Management in Topeka, a firm that provides management and lobbying resources for associations. Previously, Rahjes worked as a radio broadcaster on agriculture-related issues. He also spent several years as a full-time farmer in his native Phillips County.
Rahjes and his wife Lori have four school-aged children, Will, Grant, Sarah and Matthew.
Twenty years ago, Dean Oroke was elected to the Leavenworth County Commission.
He's tried several times to return to the commission, but those bids were defeated each time. Now, he's giving it another try.
"Taxes are the number one issue with me," Oroke said.
He's concerned about skyrocketing property valuations accompanied by mill levy increases.
"Where is the money going?" Oroke wonders.
"I know employment has increased in the county," he said. "There are more departments, there are more services. I know fuel, utilities and insurance, all of those have drastically increased. I think we have to reach a happy median on the taxes. We can't continue at the rate we're going."
At the same time, Oroke wants to focus on improving the county's roads and bridges. The county must develop more detailed plans for road improvements, he said.
"Our current rock roads are in poor, poor condition," he said.
In addition, Oroke supports hiring a county manager, without increasing the budget to do so, and he wants the county to participate in parks and recreation.
"We don't have county parks," he said. "We have a state park. The county has the funding mechanism to do it."
Oroke, who was born in Oskaloosa, moved in 1950 to Basehor, where he attended school. He and his wife, Beverly, moved to rural Tonganoxie in 1968. The couple have three children, Debbie Himpel, Curis Oroke and Carey Oroke, and seven grandchildren.
He's served on numerous statewide, county and local boards and commissions and has completed courses in disaster planning and land appraisal.
Oroke previously served a four-year term as a county commissioner, from 1984 to 1988. He also ran unsuccessfully in 1988 as a Republican, in 1992 as a Democrat, and in 1996 as a Republican, according to the county clerk's office.
Gallion, who grew up in Ohio and moved to the area in 1989, said he chose to file by a signature petition rather than paying the filing fee to allow himself an opportunity to meet a variety of residents in the county.
"I got to listen to a lot of the issues," he said. "I told them that I had done my fair share of complaining for the last eight years and now had an opportunity to do something about it."
One important issue that elected officials will continue to face in the coming years is the prospect of the growth and development of the county.
"My objective is to encourage more business development in this part of the county," he said. "Hopefully, that could offset the tax base enough to not see an increase in the real estate taxes."
Gallion said business development and infrastructure development should go hand-in-hand to yield combined benefits to the county.
"If infrastructure is not adequate enough to accommodate new or growing businesses, then you are out of luck," he said.
Additionally, Gallion said reviewing and possibly updating the county's comprehensive plan and fostering improved and open lines of communication between county commissioners and residents and media are also important factors to him.
Dean entered the race by filing the morning of June 10, just before the noon deadline. Dean said she would like to see Leavenworth County be efficient with its money, use existing and new technologies to its benefit and build on its relationship with neighboring areas.
"Leavenworth is not a county unto itself or an island," she said. "We need to remember that and work together with other parts of the Kansas City region and not stand by ourselves."
Dean said her work in the transportation division of the Midwest Regional Council, which involved working with many elected officials and providing a forum for area leaders, will benefit her greatly. She has, however, since resigned the position to avoid any potential conflict of interests associated with her candidacy, she said.
"The last 10 years there will be helpful to me fulfilling my role as county commissioner," she said. "I have seen all of the processes take place."
Dean said she plans on attending meetings and events throughout Leavenworth County to make herself known to the voters and to apprise herself of the issues that concern them.
"I want to hear what concerns them, what the average voter thinks," she said.
"What I think is not important. It's what the voters think that is important."
An article describing Richard Brauer's candidacy was published in The Sentinel May 13; efforts to reach Marvin Torneden were unsuccessful.