By Allen Edmonds
Art Ruiz, one of four candidates for Belton mayor, created a stir earlier this week when he announced online that he would seek to remove City Manager Alexa Barton if elected on April 6.
“Nothing personal, this is a business decision as I believe my management style would not mesh with the present situation,” he said.
Also running for mayor are two-term incumbent Jeff Davis, former Fire Chief and current Belton School District Board of Education member Norman Larkey and current Ward 3 Councilmember Stephanie Davidson. Davidson also ran against Davis for mayor four years ago.
After winning his first term in 2012, Davis had vowed to serve only one term.
Ruiz was the first of the candidates to jump into the more controversial aspects of the upcoming race, which are sure to become the focal points.
Both Larkey and Davidson have expressed their positions on issues such as infrastructure, water rates and economic development. Davis has not jumped into the fray yet.
“To make Belton better, tough decisions need to be made as we need to improve our image in the Kansas City region,” Ruiz said.
“City morale is at an all-time low and we need great improvement in that area. The citizens need to be listened to. Belton leadership needs to learn how to listen and not get on the defensive when discussions get a little more heated. I would encourage more input from the citizenry of Belton and would have a monthly coffee to listen to concerns from the community,” Ruiz said.
“With more community involvement, I believe would reduce crime, keep our expenses low, improve our image and have an overall healthier community.”
Barton’s tenure could be a factor in the mayor’s race, as Davis championed her hiring and has remained loyal to her throughout, despite issues with the centralized trash service and a record of removing and replacing department heads at a record pace – including Larkey, whom she fired two years ago.
Davidson has not expressed an opinion publicly on Barton, but has generally supported her as a councilmember – including her decision to fire Larkey.
Meanwhile, Ruiz was Davis’ first target when he became mayor, and has continued to be over the years.
As the longtime president of the semi-public Belton Council for Economic Development, Davis led a charge to dissolve the organization within his first month in office, bringing the economic development function in-house and participating actively in it personally.
Meanwhile, new candidates continue to file for council positions in what has proven to be the most active election season in years for the Belton Council, a group which has been under fire for several years, culminating with a citizen initiative state audit, which is beginning this month.
In Ward 1, Tom MacPherson, a Davis appointee to the council who was defeated in the most recent election before being named by the mayor to the Planning Commission, will now be challenged by Perry Gough, who served on the council nearly a decade ago.
The incumbent, Ryan Finn, has not filed for re-election.
In Ward 2, currently held by Dean VanWinkle, who also has not filed for re-election, Angela Kraft, James Pryan and Daniel Roberts are running.
In Ward 3, Allyson Lawson is taking on Skyler Kee.
In Ward 4, incumbent Gary Lathrop faces the most active challenges, drawing no less than three opponents: Rob Powell, Bret White and Steven Hackett.
Filing closes at 5 p.m. this coming Tuesday, Jan. 19.