Meet the candidates: Branson Alderman Ward III | News Free

 The 2022 municipal elections will take place on April 5. As part of our continuing effort to make voters as informed as possible before they enter the ballot box, the Branson Tri-Lakes News has sent questionnaires to alderman candidates throughout the region.

Today we will feature the responses from Branson Ward III candidates Jamie Whiteis and Ralph LeBlanc. Whiteis is the incumbent, taking his seat on the Board of Aldermen in 2020.

Below is a candidate submitted background along with their unedited answers to the same seven questions.  Several of those questions are featured in our print edition; the remainder of the questions can be found on our website, 

bransontrilakesnews.com. 

 

Background

 

Incumbent Jamie Whiteis is a third-generation Taney County resident who was born in Skaggs Hospital. He spent most of his youth in Ash Grove where his parents were teachers before enrolling at College of the Ozarks in 1987. After graduating, he stayed in Branson working with the Parks Department, the Shoji Tabuchi Theater, and now as General Manager/Operations Manager at Tanger Outlets.

He married wife Kristi in 1990 and they have two sons.

 

Challenger Ralph LeBlanc has lived in Branson for 24 years. He began a chiropractic practice in May 1998. He is married to his wife of 29 years, Cherie, and is a father of five, and grandfather of five.

 

 

What makes you the better choice for the seat than 

your opponent?

 

Whiteis: I am seeking re-election to represent Ward 3 on the Branson Board of Alderman. The Branson Board of Alderman needs stability and experience. I have no personal agenda and do not get caught up in emotional drama, but as Alderman I seek solutions. I understand city governance, abiding by city codes and ordinances when decisions are made. 

 

My decisions are based on presented facts, the established law and City codes, and what is best for Branson and all our citizens — and not on opinions or speculation. 

 

Willingness to serve also makes me a strong candidate, here are some of the boards I’ve served on in Branson; Branson/Hollister Rotary, Branson Lakes Area Chamber, Breast Cancer Foundation of the Ozarks, Table Rock Village Trustees, Branson Finance Committee, OACAC Policy & Procedure Council, 76 Entertainment Community Improvement District, City Human Resources and it would be my honor to continue to serve Ward 3.  

 

LeBlanc: Over the past year I have spent a lot of time listening to the residents of Ward III and the rest of Branson. When I decided to enter the Alderman race last year it was because many of the residents were voicing their grievances about how the then current administration, which my opponent was a part of, was running things. Decisions were being made that were contrary to what the residents of Branson wanted and the voice of the people was going unheard. I will listen to what the citizens would like to see happen in our city. I will strive to increase transparency at City Hall. I will make decisions that are in the interest of economic growth, while keeping in mind that the residents have to have equal balance in the growth equation. I will work with, and for, the people of our city. 

 

Do you believe there is sufficient transparency in city hall and if not, what changes would you like to see made?

 

Whiteis: Citizens have incredible access to agendas, meetings our city ordinances and much more, both in person and online. We should always strive to improve, but transparent leadership means leading with openness and honesty. Each of our department heads at city hall exemplify transparency by sharing information and inviting open communication. They are experts in their field and do a great job.

 

LeBlanc: The simple answer to that question is, NO! For far too long many codes and ordinances have been put into place without community input. Mayor Milton has been pushing for increased transparency and communication at City Hall over the past year, but he needs more support. The voice of the people should be heard more often, not less, because we govern on behalf of the people, not ourselves. Additionally, the previous administration had developed a culture that has everyone fearful of losing their jobs if they speak up. I have heard that there are department heads that bring a box to work everyday because they never know if that day will be their last. I know that when people and/or systems are in survival mode there can be no expansion or growth. I will work on creating a culture at City Hall that inspires input, conversations, and debate, and eliminates the fear of losing your job for speaking up.

 

Planning and zoning has recently come into the spotlight. Is the current system of zoning effective and business friendly or do changes need to be made?

 

Whiteis: We need to bring our neighboring counties to the table to discuss ways to better align our zoning regulations.

 

LeBlanc: The Branson city government should not be picking winners and losers when it comes to business. We need to cut government red tape, work with citizens and stakeholders to make sure the process is fair for all and make sure investors know that Branson is open for business. We need clear cut policies and rules that apply equally to all, and we need to let the free market determine the success or failure of a business, NOT the government. 

 

Other than personnel issues, what categories of business carried out by city staff do you feel does not necessarily always need to happen in public?

 

Whiteis: There are numerous state statutes that govern how a city does business, and therefore cities have legal counsel. Our City Attorney is aware of these laws and advises us regarding the best and legal course of action. When I took elected official training through MML (Missouri Municipal League), I was provided a 73-page booklet – Missouri Sunshine Law Open Meetings and Records Law. This booklet was provided by the Missouri Attorney General, and I keep it in my briefcase for reference. It includes 24 types of categories of business that qualify for a “closed meeting”.

 

LeBlanc: Real estate deals and legal proceedings should be privately handled per state statute. Outside of anything requiring privacy per statute, I believe we need to keep the public informed and involved. Community input is vitally important to the success of Branson. We have an amazing amalgamation of residents from all over the country, many have retired from large industries and many have retired from entrepreneurial careers. They have valuable knowledge and experience and I would love to tap into that resource. Providing a transparent and welcoming City Hall will motivate residents to want to give input to the board.

 

Do you feel there needs to be changes among the current city staff?

 

Whiteis: If you’re paying attention, over the last year you will know that we have lost our Planning & Development Director, An Interim City Planner, our Planning Commission Chair & our City Attorney. This is the new administration’s idea of culture change. The change that we need down at city hall is Leadership on the Board of Alderman. There has been zero effort to unify the BOA, much less the citizens. These 3 hand-selected challengers will continue this form of culture change if elected in this upcoming election. 

 

The cost of “moving out” these long-tenured employees is already costing the citizens thousands of dollars unnecessarily. We now have to commit time, money & resources to replace the experience, dedication & loss of Institutional Knowledge that walked out the door. The citizens of Branson will have to pay more to bring in qualified, or less qualified, applicants to backfill these positions & they should be outraged. Under this current administration, selling Branson to developers, investors, entrepreneurs & potential city employees has become a significant challenge. 

 

LeBlanc: I take a person’s ability to provide for their family very seriously, and I don’t intend to go after anyone without justification. With that being said, I have a clear vision for the type of people-focused, transparent government I would like to see in Branson. If employees are committed to openness and transparency as well as increased accountability to the citizens, I think we can work together to create a brighter future for all. 

 

The city has seen a rise in crime similar to other size cities in the state. How can the city work to curb crime?

 

Whiteis: We provide our police department with the tools they need to do their job safely & effectively. Contrary to popular belief, they can’t be everywhere at once. The community can also help by developing Neighborhood Watch Programs like the one on Tyler Street here in Branson. Social media crowdsourcing by way of apps like Nextdoor that are a form of community policing. The real question should be, how do we better retain our first responders. I’ve worked diligently during my term to see that we find ways to get them competitive wages.

 

LeBlanc: We need to show more support for our public safety employees first and foremost. Police officers talk, and if we don’t have a culture that officers want to come work in, we won’t be able to attract top talent to enhance our already excellent police force. We need to get our officers a competitive pay raise and we need to make sure that the public safety sales tax dollars are being spent on what they were intended for. We don’t have enough officers right now to handle the amount of tourists we get every year and the issues associated with that industry. We can’t attract more if they don’t want to come work in Branson for a variety of reasons. So we need an all hands on deck approach. Our current officers need to feel supported and fulfilled, we need to cultivate a culture that attracts new officers and we need to be good stewards of the public safety tax dollars that the city has collected. 

 

Planning and zoning has recently come into the spotlight. Is the current system of zoning effective and business friendly or do changes need to be made?

 

Whiteis: We need to bring our neighboring counties to the table to discuss ways to better align our zoning regulations.

 

LeBlanc: The Branson city government should not be picking winners and losers when it comes to business. We need to cut government red tape, work with citizens and stakeholders to make sure the process is fair for all and make sure investors know that Branson is open for business. We need clear cut policies and rules that apply equally to all, and we need to let the free market determine the success or failure of a business, NOT the government. 

 

Closing Statements

 

Whiteis: This election has come down to us against them.  These 3 challengers have zero experience, except for attending a few Planning & Zoning Meetings, 2 of them are recycled candidates from last year’s election where they quit to support other candidates, they are simply offering up their votes to completely change the type of government we use to run our city.  They want the position of mayor to have more power, they want to continue to serve only the citizens that agree with their agenda.   

 

I, along with the 2 other incumbents, have done an amazing job guiding the city through an unprecedented time in our history.  We have come out the other side stronger & it is our goal to unify all the citizens, not ignore them.  Our Board of Alderman Meetings and our Planning & Zoning Meetings are an embarrassment to our community.  Chaos rules the day with this administration, they deceive the public with false allegations & misdirection.  

 

Our visitors, local business owners, developers and those that wish to invest in Branson are watching. Our strategic partners are watching, they don’t like what they’re seeing either.  Our current administration is bad for business, these 3 challengers will only continue to take our city in the wrong direction. It’s up to the citizens to decide the type of government they want. Experience matters, relationships matter and knowing your community matters.  Vote Whiteis, Skains & Whiteis on April 5th so we may continue moving Branson in the right direction. 

 

LeBlanc: I am not your typical politician. I’ve never wanted to be and I never will be. What I am is honest, transparent and ready to serve the citizens of Ward II. If you’ve got a question and I don’t know the answer, I’ll find it. You will be heard, but more importantly, you will be listened to, if you elect me as your new alderman. It’s time to end the “good old boy” way of doing things, and get back to citizen-focused government that works for the people. I’m one of you, and I humbly ask for your vote for Chuck LeBlanc on April 5. 

 

 

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