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2023 City Commission Election Preview: Different kinds of experience highlight First District commissioner race

By Robert Tomlinson
News Director

Editor’s Note: Four seats on the Three Rivers City Commission will be decided by voters in the Tuesday, Nov. 7 election: Mayor, Third District Commissioner, First District Commissioner, and an At-Large Commissioner seat. For the election, The Commercial-News will be previewing the two elections that did not have a primary earlier this year and will have more than one candidate – the Third District race has incumbent Chris Abel running unopposed. This election preview article focuses on the First District race between incumbent Pat Dane and challenger John Kish.

THREE RIVERS — While the mayoral election may be the big-ticket item on the ballot for Three Rivers voters on Nov. 7, the race for First District city commissioner may be the next-biggest race to be decided.

Incumbent Pat Dane, who has been on the board for the past seven years, will face off against challenger John Kish, who is currently the chair of the city’s Planning Commission, in the election. It is the first time since 2009 the First District seat has been truly challenged into November, when Judy Gilchrist won by one vote over George Ramsey.

Dane said over the past several years, she has learned a lot about the government and how it works, calling it a “nice learning experience.” She said her concerns about the city’s water were the main reason she decided to run again in 2023.

“I used to work in a pediatric office, and I know what lead in the water can do,” Dane said.

However, when it came to water, she conceded that she herself hasn’t had too many issues with water in the houses she and her family have lived at in the city, saying “We’ve [lived in] newer homes, and I really think a lot of the lead levels are in the older homes where the pipes were lead.”

As for Kish, who has lived in Three Rivers for eight years and has been on the planning commission for seven and chair for five and a half, he decided to run because he wants to be a commissioner who speaks up and provides input during votes.

“I’ve seen too many on that commission that, basically, they’re seat-holders. They’re at the meetings, and the mayor will ask, ‘okay, any discussion,’ and they sit there, no comment, no comment, vote, okay, and that’s about it. You don’t hear input from them,” Kish said. “Everyone on that commission needs, when they say if there’s any discussion, to speak up. So yeah, I’m going to vote yes, because I feel really strongly about this, or I’m going to vote yes because it’s going to benefit this portion of the city or our schools, instead of sitting there, warming up the chair.”

Kish, like many, said he also has concerns with the water, but says the city should look into more than just state and federal grants to try to pay for the lead line replacement mandated by the state of all municipalities, and pointed to the city’s marijuana tax revenue sharing funds that he claims they are “sitting on.”

“A $270,000 check, that was nice. Now, this next one will be a full year with six dispensaries, and the check might be a bit more. Those are sitting there; those are not put into the general fund or anywhere else. That check’s right there, not spent. Why don’t we start taking that money or some money to get this project kicked off?” Kish said. “Even if it’s like, well, with the funds from the surcharge and this, we can do X number of lines this year. Great, let’s get that going. Let’s start on the process.”

As for Dane, she said she believes the city is doing “the best we can do” to try to address the water and lead line replacement situations the city is facing.

“When the state comes down and says you’re going to do this, but doesn’t give you the money to help do it, it makes it worse, so you’ve got to find ways to pay for it. It isn’t something you can just do for free. We’re doing our best to find grants and to find other ways to help pay for it,” Dane said. “You’re applying for them with the hopefulness you’ll get the money, but you never know. I mean, we’ve started replacing whenever the roads are torn up and doing things; we’re replacing all the pipes we can, but I think a lot of it has to do with inside the homes.”

One area in which the two candidates may differ a bit is on the topic of marijuana and marijuana shops in the city. Dane has been a staunch opponent of marijuana, voting against every single action related to the topic that has come before the city in her time on the city commission. Dane said she believes the city should “slow down” on accepting new recreational marijuana dispensaries into the city.

“We already have six, and as I’ve said, that’s more than we have banks, gas stations or grocery stores. Why do we need two more? I think we should let the laws catch up with what we’ve already got and what we’re doing and then decide to do more,” Dane said. “There’s six, and they’re all right in a row except for one, there’s one downtown, and all the rest are on 131. … Is that really what we need in the city? I don’t think so.”

As for Kish, he said he would not be opposed to the city “looking at” possibly capping the number of marijuana shops in the city if the idea came up, predicting it could happen in the next year, but said that because of the legwork involved at the planning level, he would “most likely support” a new marijuana shop permit application if it came to the city commission if he was elected.

“At that point, it’s already gone through planning and zoning, and they’ve done their thorough research. I would take a look, first of all, where it’s going to be located. We have a gaggle of them next door to each other on 131, I don’t know if I’d be excited about that. I would most likely, in this situation, I would most likely support it at that point, given it’s been vetted and I do know what planning and zoning go through,” Kish said.

Kish added that he doesn’t believe all of the recreational marijuana shops in existence right now in Three Rivers will be around in the next year. He gave the example of Lume, who pulled out of putting a shop in Three Rivers after closing a number of stores, with Kish theorizing it was due to the market for marijuana becoming “oversaturated.”

“They’re closing stores because the market became oversaturated. I really feel we’re going to find that here, that yes there’s two more applications in the pipeline with planning and zoning, but I personally don’t feel they’re all going to survive long-term,” Kish said.

Both Dane and Kish agreed that homelessness is a big issue in the city, however differed as to if they believe the city should develop a plan for addressing homelessness in the city. Dane cited the police department’s new liaison from Pivotal as one way the city is currently addressing the issue.

“The fact the police department has hired a person who is helping these people, I think that’s one way the city’s addressed it, and hopefully she’ll have some contacts where she can help get the people routed to where they need to be,” Dane said.

Meanwhile, Kish believed that any sort of plan the city could create would have to be done in coordination with other agencies around the area.

“We can’t just create a plan out of nothing and say, oh yeah, you can go here, and you get there and people are like, no, we can’t do this for you. So, it’d have to be carefully coordinated through the county and maybe possibly with the state to an extent, because the state offers services,” Kish said.

However, Kish added his big concern with plans like these is how the city would implement it, giving the example of multiple ordinances created throughout the years, including one for vacant storefronts and one for mobile homes and buses parked in residential areas that have not been adequately enforced.

Dane said her experience as a commissioner is one of the big reasons why she believes people should re-elect her to the seat.

“I’ve lived here all my life, the city is my life, my husband has been involved in a lot of things in the city for the youth. I know what’s going on in the city, and I love the town and community and I love being a part of the commission,” Dane said.

As for Kish, he said his experience as a planning commissioner would be beneficial to the commission, pointing out that not a lot of people currently on the city commission were on a board prior to becoming a commissioner.

“They sit there, half the time they have no idea how much legwork has been put in on their behalf. They’ll say, hey, we need an ordinance for this, and it comes to planning and zoning. They don’t know how much work goes in behind the scenes. All they know is, oh gee, it comes back, here it is, let’s vote yes or no. They have no idea how much work went in,” Kish said. “I feel it does give me a different perspective, because I know what goes on behind the scenes, if you will. Maybe that’s an easier term, but it’s behind the scenes of city commission, even though it’s public and open, and it’s not secret committee meeting.”

He said people should vote for him because he supports the city and what’s going on with it, and wants to be engaged with his constituents if elected.

“I’m that one that supports the city. I’m out at the functions of the city, I love it. I let them know my thoughts, here’s what I’m seeing, why aren’t we doing this,” Kish said. “I’m that one that’s going to be out there. I want to communicate to people, I want people to call me, text me, whatever, fill my email inbox. Let me know what you’re thinking, are we doing this right.”

Robert Tomlinson can be reached at 279-7488 or robert@threeriversnews.com.

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