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City commission candidates talk economic development

The eight candidates for the Manhattan City Commission on Wednesday discussed how the city government should fund certain projects if the 0.3% sales tax increase on the Nov. 5 ballot doesn’t pass.

They spoke at a forum hosted by The Fellow coworking space and Spark, a nonprofit that says it supports local business.

The city has six projects for which sales tax money is earmarked: the Douglass Recreation Center, joint city maintenance facility, airport runway improvements, levee improvements, redevelopment of Aggieville and North Campus Corridor.

Candidates were asked which of them should be funded with economic development money if the measure doesn’t pass.

Mary Renee Shirk said she thinks that airport and levee improvements fall under economic development funds, but the Douglass Center doesn’t. She said she wants to complete the Douglass Center, but with different sources of funding.

Aaron Estabrook said he doesn’t want to see economic development funds used on infrastructure.

Maureen Sheahan said the city is committed to the levee because federal dollars are available now, but she doesn’t see it as an economic development project. She also doesn’t see the Douglass Center as an economic development project, but wants it to move forward.

“We need to do it right and the citizens of the south side of Manhattan deserve better than that,” Sheahan said.

She said Aggieville improvements should be under economic development funds though.

Vincent Tracey said he does not support the city maintenance facility but supports the airport improvements.

“Ecodevo is clearly used for the airport,” Tracey said. “It brings business here.”

He said the North Campus Corridor and Aggieville may be covered under economic development. He said the levee and airport must move forward.

Kaleb James said the city promised the Douglass Center and said that should be covered under economic development funds.

“It pisses me off that we can fund two other community centers but promise to fund this community center” and not do it, he said.

Incumbent Linda Morse said some candidates were giving false information about the city commission during the forum, indicating that James’ assertion that the city would not fund the Douglass Center was false.

“I would encourage you as attendees to go to the city’s website and look up the accurate information,” Morse said.

She doesn’t think there is enough economic development money to complete the levee.

“It’s going to be really serious if this sales tax doesn’t pass,” she said.

Sarah Siders expressed support for the airport and Aggieville under economic development funds.

Mark Hatesohl said the city needs continue to spend the economic development money on various projects.

Additionally, candidates discussed how high they think local sales tax can rise before it becomes unsustainable for retailers.

Siders said the city needs to look at various factors in regard to this topic. She did not indicate a specific number. Siders expressed the importance of supporting small businesses.

“Increasing sales tax again and again is not good for us,” she said.

She said if voters approve the .3% sales tax measure next week, the city is “not stuck” at that sales tax rate. If she is elected as commissioner and the sales tax measure passes, she said she plans to use “make very good use” of it.

Morse said she thinks the city government and the city commission have been “good stewards” of the sales taxes that are generated.

“We’re doing some good things here, and we’ve been using sales tax because we have not wanted to increase property taxes,” Morse said.

The moderator asked candidates what the limit on the sales tax rate should be.

Morse did not indicate a specific number. Hatesohl said he thinks it should stay below 10%, while Shirk said the limit is 9.25%. Estabrook said 10% is the magic number.

If the sales tax measure passes, Kaleb James said the city is “at our cap.”

He said he thinks the current city commission has done a “terrible job” with managing money.

Tracey said he doesn’t think the city can go much higher in regard to the sales tax.

“Bottom line, I don’t think we need to raise it anymore,” Tracey said.

Sheahan said she wasn’t sure on the cap, but said she does not want to increase the tax anymore.

Nickolas Oatley / Staff photo by Nickolas Oatley  

From left, Gaysha Alfred, Asher Eklund, Tristin Rightnowar and Madilyn Ruhl work on a story scavenger hunt Thursday during Halloween in Jean Brunson’s 6th grade classroom at Northview Elementary.

Why K-State, TCU were fined by Big 12 while KU avoided punishment

Kansas State and TCU both received $25,000 fines from the Big 12 on Wednesday following field-storming incidents Saturday.

Kansas, which had a field storming incident of its own, earned a reprimand from the conference but wasn’t fined.

K-State athletics director Gene Taylor told The Mercury Thursday afternoon that the difference between the situations in large part had to do with where fans are located at each stadium.

When the Big 12 looks at whether to hand out a fine, Taylor said it looks at four questions:

  • Did a court or field storming incident happen?
  • Did officials get off the field or court unimpeded?
  • Did fans come through the opposing team’s bench?
  • Did the opposing team’s players and coaches also make it to their locker room without issues?

Taylor said when fans stormed the field at Bill Snyder Family Stadium following a 48-41 win over then-No. 5 Oklahoma, they came through Oklahoma’s bench area. And some Sooners remained on the field long enough for postgame handshakes that they then had to wade through some K-State fans on their way back to the locker room.

Therein lies the difference between K-State and TCU’s fine and KU’s mere reprimand.

“The reason KU didn’t is because they never really came near the visiting team bench according to what I saw,” Taylor said. “The students came from the opposite end of the field. They really stayed more on the KU side and not so much on the visiting team’s bench side. And by the time the fans got out there, they were already off the field and into their locker room.”

Taylor said that's also the reason Saturday's field storming contrasts with another Wildcat-related storming event. In February, K-State's men's basketball team topped KU 74-67 at Bramlage Coliseum, snapping an eight-game skid to the Jayhawks. Fans rushed the floor following the win.

Taylor then offered a detailed explanation about how the athletics department avoided a fine that time.

"A majority of the fans came from the student section, which is opposite of the team bench; we formed a line in front of the scorer's table so the two teams could shake hands and the fans never got past that line; we got the officials off, the players shook hands and they had an unimpeded path to the locker room, while the fans were really at midcourt and toward the courtside seating as opposed to the bench area," he said. "We were able to manage that, and that's a confined area, where in football, the bench goes from the 25 to the 25. You just don't have enough — it's just really difficult."

A spokesperson from the Big 12 added further clarity as to why KU was the only one of the three schools not to receive a fine, noting that video confirmed Jayhawks' fans did not hinder Texas Tech's players and coaches' ability to leave the field at Memorial Stadium.

"In order to confirm compliance, each home institution is required to provide 10 minutes of high angle video for review by Conference Office personnel," the spokesperson wrote in an email to The Mercury. "It is this review along with reports from the officiating crew and visiting team personnel that results in the determination of sanctions and the extent of fines, if any.”

Despite receiving a fine stemming from Saturday's postgame revelry, Taylor praised the way K-State’s gameday operations staff handled the aftermath of the upset.

“The staff did a tremendous job managing that situation,” he said. “There were no incidents between an Oklahoma player or coach and our fans. The officials also got off the field very safely.”

So did Oklahoma's band. A photo that went semi-viral on various social media platforms showed K-State's "Pride of Wildcat Land" band lining up to surround the Oklahoma band. The move allowed Oklahoma's band to exit the field safely during the field storming.

It happened unbeknownst to Taylor. But he's glad the "Pride of Wildcat Land" band displayed good sportsmanship.

"We do talk with the band quite a bit, in pregame and halftime and all that stuff, but I think because of the Oklahoma game, they went down there to do some postgame stuff, so they just wanted to help the OU band get out of there, which is good of them to do that," Taylor said. "There were no issues there, either."

Taylor said he talked about the possibility of appealing the fine with members of his inner circle. But they cautioned him against it.

“Our staff said, ‘Gene, we don’t know that it’s worth the issue. Based on those three things — yes, we got a majority of the players off the field and we got the officials off, but fans did go through their bench,’” Taylor said. “Again, nothing was damaged or taken and there were a few straggler players who were just shaking hands and talking with our guys who just didn’t get off quickly.”

Taylor chuckled at the assertion that this is the happiest he’s ever been to pay a $25,000 fine. But he didn’t dispute it, either.

“All in all, we kind of said, ‘Hey, we handled it as best as we could. Staff did a great job. We’ll pay the $25,000 and move on,’” Taylor said. “Hopefully we can play well against KU this week.”

Families welcome home Fort Riley soldiers from deployments

FORT RILEY — The energy inside Fort Riley’s deployments center bristled with anticipation Wednesday evening as friends and family waited to reunite with their loved ones who had been deployed across the world for nine months.

The crowd cheered as the lights dimmed, artificial smoke filled the room and 469 soldiers from the 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team’s Main Body 8 and 9A streamed into the room, lining up on the floor.

Maj. Gen. John Kolasheski, commanding general of the 1st Infantry Division and Fort Riley, thanked the families for their support and commended the soldiers on their duty overseas.

“Through multiple exercises and live fire events, you assured our allies around the world, and you deterred our adversaries,” Kolasheski said. “You did it with a sense of discipline and pride that this organization is known for, so you should walk with your head held high and your shoulders back. Job well done. Welcome home.”

Earlier this year, almost 4,000 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team soldiers and approximately 2,700 1st Combat Aviation Brigade soldiers deployed to Europe as part of a regular rotation in support of the Atlantic Resolve mission.

Atlantic Resolve’s purpose is to build readiness, increase interoperability and enhance the bonds with partner militaries using multinational training events in Bulgaria, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Romania.

More than 150 1st Sustainment Brigade headquarters soldiers also have been deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, continuing counterterrorism efforts.

Over the past month, those soldiers have steadily returned from their deployments, and officials said they expect about 6,000 troops to be back before the Thanksgiving holiday.

With the crowd Wednesday, Kolasheski counted down from three and dismissed the soldiers on the floor, inciting a wave of movement from the floor and stands as families found and embraced one another.

Kimberly Maclin’s children, 9-year-old Cassidy and 5-year-old Lee, found their father, Johnathan Maclin, in no time and he crouched over to give them a long hug.

Johnathan had spent his first deployment in Germany as an artillery mechanic.

Kimberly, of Fort Riley, grinned as she held up the sign the family made for Johnathan to see, a to-do list now that he was home, which included hugs, kisses, wrestling and playing on his new Xbox that was waiting at home.

“It’s great, it’s good to be back,” Johnathan said. “(The first thing I’m going to do is) go home, get a shower, play with my kids and visit with my wife and everybody.”

Kimberly said though they were able to communicate through messaging and occasional calls, it had been difficult being apart. Even in the months leading up to his deployment, Johnathan had been busy with basic and advanced individual training, but Kimberly said knowing the two of them would be able to see each other again got her through the experience.

“Some days I’m like, ‘Why did you do this?’” she said. “But this is the one thing he’s wanted to do his whole life, being in the Army. As long as it makes him happy, I’m happy. It’s hard to be separated, but in the end, he’s doing the one thing he’s wanted to do when he was growing up.”

Before the troops came out, Kimberly said she would be able to get one of her wedding ring bands back because she gave one to Johnathan before he left, and he carried it with him on his dog tags. Cassidy and Lee, she said, gave their father a teddy bear and bandana to remember them by.

Behind the scenes, Dianne Hepler and Patt Brazina of the Lady Troopers cleared up a snack and refreshment area set up for the troops. For nearly 30 years, these women and several other volunteers see off and welcome families and soldiers when they deploy and return, no matter the weather or time of day.

Both women had husbands who had served in the Army.

“My husband was a several-time Vietnam vet and his last time (he deployed), I was mad,” Brazina said. “I was mad at the Army, I was mad at the world, and I vowed never again would a soldier come home and not be welcomed.”

Hepler said volunteers provide items like cookies (which are homemade during deployments) and coffee to help ease the anxiety of leaving home and welcome troops when they return. The Lady Troopers also help keep in touch with command teams to help them adjust to the area.

Hepler said she’s been involved with the organization for as long as she has after seeing soldiers’ react to the gestures.

“You have to be here and see when the troops come through, they’re so appreciative,” she said.

Lt. Col. Corey Gamble, the brigade’s rear detachment commander, said it was great to see all the families reunited. In the coming weeks, the troops will undergo a reintegration process that includes medical check ups and briefs to get them settled. Gamble said they will then resume normal everyday operations and the holiday season will give some an opportunity to take a break.

“(The welcome home ceremony is) a great experience,” Gamble said. “They spent nine months in Europe with training exercises and working with partner nations. Even though communication is good between families, it’s always that person-to-person communication that’s the best.”