Four men are running on the Republican ticket for the Franklin County Commission’s first district seat.
The winner of the race on Aug. 7 will face no Democratic opponent in November, meaning next Tuesday’s election will decide who serves the northern half of the county for the next four years.
Terry Wilson, Washington, the incumbent, is seeking a fourth term this year.
Ron Keeven, New Haven; Tim Baker, Robertsville; and Tim Brinker, Washington, all are running as well.
Wilson, a retired U.S. Army officer and former real estate appraisal business owner, said his interest in government hasn’t waned even though the role of the county commission has.
“We’ve changed substantially in what we do and how we do it,” Wilson told The Missourian. “We looked at economic development in the past, but today we’re looking at implementation and working together with our communities, cooperating.”
He said different avenues and approaches must be explored to create jobs and bring new residents to the area.
In addition to focusing on economic development, Wilson has been active in promoting tourism in the county.
Tourism, he said, is a chance to promote the county’s quality of life to visitors.
“We have a good quality of life out here. Our efforts are to preserve that and balance what we have between the rural and urban areas,” Wilson said.
Promoting tourism and economic development in the unincorporated areas of the county just makes sense, he said.
“Half the population and roughly 90 percent of the land in the county is unincorporated,” Wilson said, “And three of the largest tourism destinations.”
He said economic development, tourism and infrastructure improvements all relate back to the same thing — promoting job growth and retention.
“We lost jobs (over the past four years). How do we replace them? It isn’t up to the government to create jobs, but to facilitate and help those who do,” Wilson said.
Existing industries need to be enhanced, he said.
“It seems like the state kind of ignored that before, but they’re paying attention now, to (job) retention, particularly on the industrial side,” Wilson said.
He said maintaining the county’s infrastructure — roads and bridges — is difficult and added that in some ways, Franklin County has two distinct counties within it in the northern and eastern areas and the southern and western areas.
“It is a pipe dream if you think you’re going to make everyone happy,” Wilson said. “But we’ve got to do what we’ve got to do for all of the people.”
He said replacing the Bend Road bridge in the Robertsville area will be the largest transportation project facing the county in coming years.
“We’d have a hard time doing it on our own,” Wilson said.
He also noted a number of “non-bridge bridges,” structures of less than 25 feet in length that don’t carry a large volume of traffic or pass over major bodies of water.
“Those are something we haven’t done a lot with, which will require all out-of-pocket money, and are physically deficient,” Wilson said. “None are big money items, but we’ve got to do more work on those in areas that there’s a lot of traffic and a lot of potential for growth.”
He noted improving Highway 47 from Washington to St. Clair and widening Highway 50 from Union all the way to Interstate 44 as other key transportation issues within the county.
“Overall, we’re able to get good bang for the dollar on our roads and other projects,” Wilson said.
Washington native Tim Brinker said the county has several issues that stand out to him — completing implementation of its 911 system, improving infrastructure and furthering economic development.
Brinker has experience in public office. He’s been a Washington City Council member for 17 years.
Now he’s hoping to take that experience to the next level — representing not just a single ward in the city, but roughly 55,000 people as commissioner for the county’s first district.
“I’ve always had a passion for politics and a passion to pursue a higher political channel,” Brinker told The Missourian. “I love politics. I want to represent the issues of taxpayers, myself included.”
Brinker owns his own small business, Brinker Promotions, which has been in operation for three years.
He’s been a public official since his first election to city council in 1994.
Brinker said he was the youngest person ever elected to the council and has served as mayor pro tem three times.
“The citizens of Washington have had the confidence to elect me nine times,” he said.
“I’ve been inspired by a lot of previous council people, the kinds of people who would fish or cut bait and make the tough decisions,” Brinker said. “I feel the timing is right (to run for county commission).”
In order to improve 911 in the county, municipalities operating their own public safety answering points — Washington, Pacific and Sullivan — need to be considered, Brinker said.
County officials have discussed proposing a sales tax to voters, but haven’t clearly outlined how those cities with their own call centers will benefit, he said.
“Taxpayers throughout the county deserve a timely response,” Brinker said.
Infrastructure improvements — roads and bridges — need to be re-established as a top priority, he said.
“The budgetary restraints and miscalculations (with the Pave the County program) was strictly a communication issue between those implementing the project and those overseeing it,” Brinker said. “If elected, that will not occur on my watch.”
Brinker, like Wilson, said he wants to push for a four-lane Highway 47 between the north and south parts of the county.
All improvements will require planning, he said.
“It needs to be implemented within the county’s means,” Brinker said.
He touted his economic development experience, having worked alongside Dick Oldenburg, the city of Washington’s former economic development director.
Brinker called Oldenburg “one of the best” and said the county needs to have an economic development director position to work with the private and public sectors.
“We need to enhance employment opportunities. That applies to existing businesses too,” he said. “If a business is looking to expand, having an economic development director can enable the county to help them find a conduit to do so.
“Implementing a full-time position like that will equate to adding new jobs to Franklin County,” Brinker said.
Tim Baker, a consultant in the ice manufacturing industry, says he wants to give back to the community, and that’s why he’s running for Franklin County Commission.
Baker, Robertsville, sold his family’s business, Baker Ice, earlier this year. Prior to selling the company, Baker was president for 15 years.
He also has been active in the Pacific area community for years.
He has been on the Pacific Area Chamber of Commerce board for 12 years and served previously as president and vice president.
Baker also is chairman of the Pacific Tourism Board and has been president of the Tri-County Community Senior Center board for two years.
Baker said running for public office wasn’t a spur of the moment decision.
“I announced to my employees two years ago of my intent to run for state representative. I’ve always been interested in local politics,” Baker said.
He decided to run for the first district county commission seat instead.
Baker said the biggest issue currently facing the county is the several lawsuits in which the county has been named a defendant.
The county is being sued by three citizens over the ceding of signatory authority; is being sued by the American Civil Liberties Union in federal court over prayers held at public meetings; and is being sued by the Labadie Environmental Organization regarding the landfill land use regulations adopted last year.
“I’m not running because I have a vendetta. I want to make the county a better place,” Baker said.
He said his lack of political experience is a plus.
“I’m not tainted by a system that I don’t know,” Baker said. “I grew up in a family business, I know what hard work is and I know what it’s like to spend your own money and not just someone else’s.”
He said he and his wife, Deborah, talked and prayed about the decision to run for some time.
“I’ve seen some of the challenges … and I know I can do what’s best for the people,” Baker said.
He said he wants to be an ambassador for the county.
“I know I’m not going to make everyone happy, but it is about doing what’s in the best interests of the county,” Baker said.
His motivation is to create a county where his four daughters will want to stay to raise families of their own, he said.
“I have no true agenda, other than to help businesses in the county,” Baker said. “We’ve got too many corporations that get no help (from the government). I’m not opposed to bringing in new companies, but I’m not willing to give away the farm to do it.”
Baker said the county needs to address transportation issues — like replacing the Bend Road bridge and other bridges — but doesn’t have the resources to fix every problem.
“In a perfect world, we’d all have hard-surfaced, nice roads, but we have limited resources and limited options,” he said.
Ron Keeven, New Haven, said he’s hoping to bring common sense to the Franklin County Commission.
Keeven told The Missourian that county officials need to consider additional measures to cut costs and save money, including buying more fuel-efficient vehicles and investing in energy-saving technologies.
“There’s a lot of areas that need to be addressed” in county government, he said. “There are areas that have been overlooked.
“People get ingrained in doing things, but there’s always something to be considered,” Keeven said.
He said he’s been attending commission meetings for about 5 1/2 years.
“The knowledge I’ve gained from looking at the commission, plus 44 years of small-business experience, gives me a background that brings with it a level of expertise we’ve been lacking (on the commission) for the last 12 years,” Keeven said.
“I don’t need this job, but this job needs a different perspective — a small-business perspective — a perspective of conserving taxpayer money,” he said.
Keeven owns Keeven Heating and Cooling, New Haven, and has worked in the HVAC business for decades, including as an instructor at Ranken Technical College and East Central College.
He said making the commission’s weekly meetings more open is another priority.
“I’m a firm believer of government by the people and for the people,” Keeven said.
Keeven has been at odds with current commissioners for years including on the openness of their meetings.
“I’ve got the common sense to listen to both sides of things. I do it for my customers every day,” he said. “Why can’t I do it for the citizens of the county?”
He said the issue of refinancing lease-back bonds used to finance the Pave the County program and several building projects also deserves greater scrutiny.
Keeven said the latest amortization schedule for the proposed refinancing of the bonds, called certificates of participation, shows a total debt of about $56 million, only $4 million less than the original combined total of $60 million — even though the county has paid $9 million on the bonds and their interest thus far.
“We need to look at the economics of it and keep the bond issues separate,” Keeven said.
Keeven said the master plan currently being developed by the county “is a fiasco.
“They have a plan in place and they’re throwing it all out. Why not just take the plan you’ve got, identify the issues and fix them?” he asked.
Keeven said the biggest transportation issues in the county are on Highway A, especially near the Highway YY intersection, and expanding Highway 47 to four lanes from Washington to St. Clair.
“Highway A is a hazard for school buses and emergency vehicles,” he said. “It’s an example of how far behind the times our infrastructure is.”
Keeven said expanding Highway 47 would be an economic development tool and would improve safety and spur growth.
“It would be great and could develop into an effective outer loop for connecting Interstate 44 to 70,” he said.