Chapman:
Kent Steward, I think it’s probably safe to say one of the more recognizable folks around this town, both at Fort Hays State University and in Hays, having been at Fort Hays State as our University Relations Director. You’ve been city commissioner for more than nine years, stepping away now. It seems like if there’s anyone to be able to talk about things that are going on here in Hays and in Western Kansas, you’re one of the guys that we should come to. Thank you for joining me and agreeing to talk about what’s a really momentous time in western Kansas.

Steward:
I hope I can live up to that introduction. Chap, you and I have known each other for a long time, and so I’m looking forward to this. Another opportunity for you and me to kick things around a little bit.

Chapman:
Absolutely. When we’re around playing poker, we don’t get to have this kind of conversation. I think I concentrate on the …

Steward:  [inaudible 00:01:47] interrupted.

Chapman: Far too frequently. You’ve decided this year you’re going to step away from both the Director of University Relations position and from your Hays City Commission post. A time of great change, especially at Fort Hays State with Ed Hammond’s retirement and Richard Martin coming in, Graham Glynn being hired on as a new provost. Your position is changing over, and then obviously what’s going on at the city commission. Did it just feel like it was time to do both at the same time, or … ?

Steward:
Yeah, though I need to clarify that a little bit. There’s a date certain for me leaving the city commission, and that’s two days from now. The new commissioner will be sworn in, and I’ll turn over my seat. At the university, I’m tentatively thinking of retirement at the end of this year. At the very least It’ll be sometime soon, but President Martin and I haven’t quite nailed that down yet.

Chapman:
Got you. Let’s talk about what’s going on in the City of Hays. Obviously, anything that’s going on with the government in Kansas right now, people are on high anxiety about whether it’s a local government that’s well managed or it’s a state government that seems to be, if not completely, at least on the brink of disarray.

As you look back over …

Steward:  [inaudible 00:03:14] interrupt you …

Chapman: Okay.

Steward:
… and say I don’t happen to believe that it’s in the state of disarray that is commonly believed. We can come back to that.

Chapman: Let’s talk about that a little bit first off. We can always come back to the city. You look at a six-hundred-million dollar budget hole. You look at political tricks that were used by both of the moderate and conservative wing of the party to get us into this kind of situation with the 2012 tax deal that really wasn’t a deal. You look at consensus revenue estimates that are now being brought down another, I believe, four-hundred-million. News just came out, it hasn’t quite stuck in my head yet exactly where it is, but it’s at least two-hundred-million if not four-hundred-million. Somewhere along the way, the state governments backed out a billion dollars. Schools are closing early all across the state. It looks pretty dire. Why do you think we’re not quite there?

Steward:
I would stipulate to your facts, but I reach a different conclusion. All you see in the media is what is the narrative that you just described. The facts, again, are true, and I’ll come back to them as I talk about it, but when Governor Brownback was elected a little more than four years ago, he made a decision, and you never hear any credit given to him for the sense of it, which is that Kansas hasn’t been declining in population, we’ve been growing a little bit, but we’ve falling farther and farther and farther behind …

Chapman:
Not nearly as fast as especially states around us like Colorado.

Steward:
Exactly. You look at our representation in Congress, we keep getting Congressmen lopped off. Similarly, our economy has been at best muddling along, and that’s trying to account for the federal kinds of things that come into play.

Chapman:
Absolutely.

Steward:
The Kansas economy has not done well in a long, long time. He said, “Let’s try something new.” What he proposed to try, I’ll tell you, I’m not sure it’s the right thing. That’s not my assertion. What I’m saying is you could muddle along the same old way and think things are going to somehow miraculously get better, or you can try something bold to see if you can turn it around. He tried something bold. You said we’re hurting for money right now. What you said is absolutely right. I work at Fort Hays State University. We’re in a really tough situation right now. No way do I want to downplay that, but does any rational person believe that you make major changes in your taxing structure, and within two years you’re going to see the results of it?

Chapman:
Let’s give some blame where it’s due on that, because I agree with you about the Governor deserving credit for having a plan. We were just kind of sliding on towards oblivion, and it was a bad circumstance under his predecessor. He did have a bold plan. That’s great, but it seems like he oversold it, because it wasn’t me saying that it was going to be like a shot of adrenaline to the heart of the Kansas economy. Of course, Paul Davis didn’t say much else during the campaign, but he definitely made a lot of hay out of that particular statement that it was going to come more quickly. Maybe did the Governor oversell it? If so, that’s going to be on him.

Steward:
On that fact, I don’t agree with you.

Chapman:
Okay.

Steward:
He did say it would be like a shot of adrenaline to the heart. Worst thing he ever could have said. It’s fair game for people who are his political enemies or people who disagree with him politically to throw that in his face, because he did say it. It was a terrible analogy to use. What he was saying is we’re going to jolt the system and we’re going to get it turned around and moving again, but using that metaphor makes you think it will be sudden. I heard a presentation right at that time by the State Treasurer. I heard statements from any number of government officials for people who were listening and, again, who aren’t just totally ignorant of economics, you’d know that changing the taxing structure, if it works, and I’m not saying it will, but if it works, it’s going to take several years. We’re literally only two years out from when those things kicked in.

*** PROGRAM BREAK ***

Chapman:
How long do you think it would take? Let’s say that we continue along this path. If things continue the way that they are, how long do think it’s got to go before people say, “Maybe this wasn’t the right way to go”? Of course, that assumes that it is going to continue the way that it is. That shot of adrenaline may kick in at some point, I’ll accede to that.

Steward:
First of all, reasonable people at some point reach a point where they say, “This is a failure.” You’ve got to admit that at some point. I don’t know exactly what the time frame is, but the public has now been convinced that this is over, it’s buried, and his political opponents have been saying that for eighteen months. The new laws were in effect for six months, people hadn’t even paid their taxes, and they were pronouncing it a failure. Again, people who are talking about it in a serious way talk about the fact there was going to be this very difficult transition period where the revenues were going to fall way down, and then it was going to take a while for the economy to grow as a result of the lower taxes, and then the revenue would recover. I would say four, five, six years after, we should begin to have a true idea of whether this looks like it’s succeeding or failing.

Chapman:
Let’s also be very honest about it and give the Governor credit where this wasn’t the one-hundred percent plan that he had pitched. He had some revenue make-goods in that that got stripped out by the State Senate, and he was kind of forced to pass a bill where there was a ticking time bomb in there, wasn’t there?

Steward:
That’s fair of you to bring that up, but he did sign the bill.

Chapman:
He did sign the bill, yeah. It would have been incredibly hard for him to campaign on that in 2010, get it through, and then get a bill delivered to his desk and veto it, though.

Steward:
Yeah, it went farther than what he had passed.

Chapman:
Yeah. This is no ideal circumstance for him, for the legislature. Certainly, we see school boards locally dealing a lot with that, but you probably didn’t have too much of an impact on how the City of Hays operated and things you were doing day-to-day as a city commissioner, though, did it?

Steward:
It’s going to have tremendous impact on local government. Not just city, but as you say, school boards and county governments, because the less able the state is to do some of the revenue sharing and things they’ve done in the past, then  the local governments need to find some way to make up that money. Yeah, it will definitely have an impact. In the case of schools, it’s very clear what it is, the local option budget, however that keeps getting tweaked and changed. What people may not like but realistically should expect is that they’re going to pay more local taxes at least until this plan succeeds, if it does.

Chapman:
For a community like Hays, and I’ve said this, and some people certainly disagree with me, but we’re in a stable enough economic circumstance where if we have to raise the mills and we have to supplement on the local budget, we can probably do that with a minimum of pain. Then I think about the rest of Western Kansas, and I think about smaller counties, I think about Gove County or Wallace County, Sherman. I think you’re dealing with populations in the thousands, not in the ten thousands. In normal and good economic times they’re wondering, “Are we going to have to consolidate schools?” Then they see this, and they see schools with some good, stable economic footing like Concordia, and now some of the further east schools in the state are saying, “We’re going to have to close early this year because of our budget shortfalls.” I wonder, what do those communities do? Because they’re getting hit harder than we here in Ellis County are.

Steward:
Yes, they are. You’re absolutely right about that. Again, what it requires right now is some belt-tightening. It’s interesting, even if the law gets changed, that relief is not going to come …

Chapman:
Very true. Yeah, might not come for another year or two.

Steward:
… for another year or two at best. No matter what happens at this point, we’ve got some rocky times ahead of us for at least a handful of years. Yeah, in the case [inaudible 00:15:14] the City of Hays a little bit that about eight years ago we changed to we’re the only city of first- and second-class cities in the state that fund our general fund from sales tax. We made that change so that we were forced to be responsive to what the local economic situation was. With property taxes, you can just keep sailing along completely impervious to the fact people can’t pay it and they get their home foreclosed, but with sales tax, you have to deal with whatever actually comes in from the sales tax. We thought that was a good thing to do, and it has really played out well for us.

Chapman:
It must have made your job at least a little bit tougher, because sales tax income is much more variable. Property tax is really stable. You can budget easily from it, you know what’s coming in. With sales tax …

Steward:
It’s [inaudible 00:16:13].

Chapman:
When we went through the economic downturn from ’08 to about 2010, obviously discretionary income’s going to drop, not as many people are going to be buying things, and so that’s going to be harder to make adjustments to the budget than had you just decided to do a property tax.

Steward:
Exactly. We accounted for that by creating greater reserves than what we kept when we had just the property ta- … We didn’t have just the properties tax, but when it was the main [inaudible 00:16:44] the general fund. Anyway, so we’ve had those reserves. In good conscious as an elected official, you shouldn’t collect a whole lot more taxes than you actually need. By collecting more, which we did to have those reserves to cushion for a really bad year, that left us with a lot of money on hand. What we’ve done is, in the past, projects that we would have bonded for, we paid cash for. I think the taxpayers can feel good about that.

When we replaced the runway at the airport, major project, when we last rebuilt Vine Street, we paid cash for all these things. Not too many cities will pay in cash for those kinds of projects.

Chapman:
Yeah. I was going to say, that’s pretty rare.

Steward:
You save all of those financing charges that you pay when you bond, so you spend less taxpayer money doing projects than you would have otherwise.

Steward:
The first thing I want to say is I really appreciate you bringing up those colleagues, and there are a lot of others besides those, including the city staff, city manager.

Chapman:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Pretty darn good people on both sides of the aisle.

Steward:
Yeah, and these good things that have happened are attributable to a whole lot of people besides just me, and definitely the credit needs to be passed around. It wasn’t practical for me to run for the legislature. I thought about it. It was something that definitely interested me because of my interest in public service and government and so forth, but it would have meant me being gone during one of the semesters, basically, and the two semesters are the biggest part of my annual work schedule. Actually, under state law, I could do it and it has to be allowed, but I didn’t feel in good conscience that I should walk away from my job during that time of the year.

Chapman:
Got you. That’s something else that people don’t really realize when they think about their state representatives, is that you kind of have to have the right job situation to be able to make that happen, just the amount of time that you’ve got to spend. You’re spending months in Topeka. Looks like we may for the current session have them go into overtime. Every time I mention that to a state representative, they seem to act like I’ve just tased them, but with the courts coming, it certainly looks that way. It keeps, I think, civic-minded citizens like yourself from getting into that pool. That’s an unfortunate thing if someone wants to run for office and the stipulations of the job mean that they can’t, or the requirements of that job mean they can’t.

Steward:
That’s right.

Chapman:
Yeah, that’s unfortunate.

Steward:
It is unfortunate. I think we’re very much aware of that on a national level. You pretty much have to be a millionaire to run for a national office. As you say, at the state level, you don’t have to be a millionaire, but you have to have circumstances that allow you to be free to do that service, so not just every- … We lose out on a lot of potentially great people that just cannot do it.

Chapman:
Yeah. You don’t have that much of an issue with the city commission. You’ve been able to keep your job, hold onto the city commission position.

Steward:
Thanks to the forbearance of, first, President Hammond, and now President Martin, because there are conflicts at times. I know they’ve both been uncomfortable here and there on a vote I’ve passed or whatever, and they’ve both just been great in being supportive and allowing me to not feel a bunch of pressure to do what I think is right.

Chapman:
Now you’re handing off the reins to, there are two new city commissioners, because you and also Commissioner Mellick decided not to run again. Does it feel odd handing off the reins, especially considering that you’re leaving people in a pretty good situation? Is there that sense of, “Good luck, boys, don’t run it into a ditch”? I’m playing a little silly with it, but I think you understand the question is, is there trepidation about saying, “Gosh, I really busted my back end to make things good …

Steward:
Yeah, there’s some of that.

Chapman:
“… I hope these guys don’t mess it up.”

Steward:
“Don’t mess it up.” There’s some of that, to be honest, but as you already said, you could not find a more experienced public servant than Eber Phelps, so it’s not like the commission is lacking. Or, Henry Schwaller…

Chapman: For that matter, yeah.

Steward:
… who’s been there a long, long time, and Shaun has a little experience under his belt. James and Lance would be the first ones to tell you they’ve got a steep learning curve ahead of them, but I think they’re equally good. They’ve both bring a lot of experience to it that they’ll be able to quickly apply to what’s required in that job.

Chapman:
There was a proposal in front of the state legislature this past cycle. I think it kind of died in committee. It’d do two things. I want to unpack them, because there’s one part I want to focus on. It would change elections and it would make those school board and those city commission elections, in addition to changing the date, it’d make it partisan. One of the things that thoroughly consistent observers of the local government point out is that, without the party labels on those city commission offices, it’s let folks that are otherwise on opposite sides of the aisle …

Anyone who pays attention knows that you identify Republican. You support Republican candidates, you’re conservative yourself. Eber Phelps and Henry Schwaller obviously are on the record as having run for Democratic partisan spaces before, but a lot of the great successes that have come out of the city commission’s work had been when the two of you or the three of you, or more, have crossed the aisle. Do you think that it would change it for the worse if we went to partisan elections for city commission?

Steward:
I definitely think it has that potential, for the reasons you just described. I don’t know that political parties have to be the kiss of death to being able to work together. We can look at any number of situations in the history, I don’t know about currently, where it works just fine to have political parties that are [inaudible 00:26:48] … It’s like everything in life, there are trade-offs. If you go from one way of doing it to another, you gain some things, you lose some things.

Yes, you’re right, I think if city officials have to run in partisan elections, there will be some tendency to create some rifts there.

***PROGRAM BREAK***

Chapman:
One of the big rifts that it seems there is in the community … We’ve achieved a lot of consensus on a number of things, but … In the interest of full disclosure, I probably contribute a bit to this myself, and I think we’re going to be pretty much on the same page here. When the government starts getting into the business of being in business or being, as people commonly say, in bed with business, I think it can be a recipe for disaster unless it’s done very, very carefully. We’re seeing a number of things come through the city commission of late, and controversial, and people aren’t quite sure if these are the right ways to go. It’s a long set up to talk about CIDs and TIFs, community improvement districts and tax increment financing. A couple of months ago, the city voted in favor of a community improvement district that’ll raise the sales tax at the mall to pay for improvements the Dial Properties wants to make on it. Then, just this past week, the USD 489 school board agreed to support a tax increment financing district for some land they own northwest of town that’s going to be a new truck stop. You’ve been very vocal about your general opposition to those, and I get that and for the most part I agree. There have been times, like when we brought the Home Depot in, that I thought that the tax increment financing plan was a good plan. Do you think that there is some good in the judicious use of districts like that, or do you pretty much think that across the board it’s a bad way to go?

Kent:
It’s not just a bad way to go, it’s an abomination.

Chapman:
Okay.

Steward:
Would you like me to elaborate?

Chapman:
No, you can just leave that there. Yes, I would, especially considering that there have been some times where I’ve thought, “Hey, that was a proper way to go.” I was kind of expecting you to disagree, not to that level of intensity, so, yeah. Convince me why I’m wrong about the Home Depot deal.

Steward:  I think there’s a single situation where it’s defensible. First of all, if a businessman wants a handout from the city, the City of Hays [inaudible 00:31:33], they drive down to city hall in their Lexus or their Escalade, and they tell them, “I need money so I can do this wonderful thing,” there is no way for us to confirm that what they’re telling us is true. At best, we could ask to audit their personal finances, their professional finances, whatever. Ask Toby Dougherty what he thinks of that idea. He doesn’t want anything to do with it.

Chapman:
Sure.

Steward:
Even if you did that, even if they gave you every record that they have [inaudible 00:32:10] …

Chapman:
They wouldn’t want their records to become public anyway …

Steward:
Yeah. [inaudible 00:32:12].

Chapman:
… because once they go into your hands … Yeah, exactly

Steward:
[inaudible 00:32:13] can’t in many instances, but if they go into a bank they have to divulge all kinds of information like that. Even if you looked at those records and said, “Oh, yeah, you’re short two-million dollars,” that doesn’t prove that they couldn’t have gone to a bank or gone and got other investors. There’s no

way for a government to prove that these people need this money.

Chapman:
I’m really glad you mention that, too, because a lot of what I heard when the public forum was held at FHSU for these commission candidates right before the election, a couple of people said, “Well, have you tried to go to a bank to get a  loan? It’s nearly impossible.” I thought, “You’re a multi-million dollar business … ” Let’s put it on Dial Properties now, the owner of the Hays mall. They’re a multi-million dollar business with locations all across the US. They can’t get a three-million dollar loan? That seemed crazy to me that someone would say that a company like that would struggle to get financing for what a business would look at as a relatively small amount of money.

Kent:
It’d make you wonder about their financial viability overall, wouldn’t it?

Chapman:
Make you wonder what a banks doing, too.

Steward:
Is this the company you want to be investing in? Plus, when they go and get investors, the investors either get equity in the business that’s being created, or their money gets paid back to them with interest. For the taxpayers of Hays, neither of those things. They just give it away. Then, the thing, being a believer in free enterprise, any time you prop up one business, you hurt another. The example I gave with the mall is, we gave them three-million dollars plus. It was more than three. If our intent was to help the mall, we certainly succeeded. I don’t know how a business couldn’t be better off when they get a gift of more than three-million dollars.

If the intent was to help the Hays economy, it’s just the opposite. We hurt the Hays economy, because what we did was, people like whoever the construction company was that built the new building for Hibbett Sports, they’re not going to get a Hibbett Sports coming to them because the mall got a gift.

Chapman:
That’s right, yeah.

Steward:
Same with Vanderbilt’s. They moved from the malls to where they could get a better deal, a better businessman that could offer them a better situation. Now they’re not going to go shopping for that better situation. What we’ve done is taken an inefficient business, propped them up, to the harm of the people who are operating good businesses.

Chapman:
I assume that you’re no fan of the 489 deal to build a new Oasis-style truck stop.

Steward:
Some guy from [Colby 00:35:09] is coming in here to run a business, and in addition to the way you finance a business, he wants the taxpayers of this community to give him millions of dollars. No, I’m not in favor of that.

***PROGRAM BREAK***

Chapman:
When we see communities that have been doing this, I think about the southeast Kansas community where the Amazon distribution center is about to move away. The reason it’s moving away is that their tax deal, they have one of those sweetheart tax deals …

Steward:
[inaudible 00:38:55].

Chapman:
That’s exactly right. It becomes this thing where businesses become transient. They only short-term help their communities. Obviously, it’s harder to move a truck stop than it is this, or a mall, but the same thing applies, is that now there really isn’t much of an incentive for Dial Properties, the next time that they want to improve that property, to do anything on their own. They just come to the city with their hand out.

Steward:
That’s right. If anyone’s really interested in getting down into the nitty gritty of this, they can contact me. I can give them URLs for a couple of studies. Actually, they’re not studies, they’re reviews of literature. They represent multiple studies showing that none of this stuff works.

Chapman:
Yeah. It certainly seems like that, and I was just kind of shocked that we’d gone in that … For things where you’re building infrastructure and you’re paying the city back, water, sewer, roads, it seems to make a bit more sense than something like the mall deal, where it just seemed like a real handout. One of the things people always say in this town is, “Gosh, I wish we had more retail options. I wish we had this store that’s at the central mall in Salina.” They said that about Hobby Lobby for years until it came here. Dial Properties’ response was, “We’ll dangle a couple of vague properties. We won’t name them, but have said they might come in if this deal gets done.” That seemed the strangest thing that convinced people. I was utterly unconvinced by that. I assume you were to?

Steward:
I was unconvinced.

Chapman:
Do you think that we’re going to see not just the physical improvement? Do you think we might see some improvement in the Hays Mall? Do you think it might bring some of that in?

Kent:
Yeah, I think we’ll see improvements there. I’m a little surprised it hasn’t started yet, but it takes some work. They have to get the engineering done and have the architect do the drawings and all that sort of thing. I would expect to see something happening out there fairly soon.

Chapman:
Okay. We talked enough about that. One of the things that we should probably talk about as well, because it’s just so front and center on everyone’s mind, if it’s not the economy, people are talking about water, and you’ve got a lot to hang your hat on for the changes we made to water consumption here in the city of Hays. But it’s something [inaudible 00:41:29] the city of Hays, or is there a collective action problem in the rest of western Kansas that’s even bigger than anything we do here?

Steward:
Yeah, that’s a good question. I’m think how I’d respond to that. A lot of people don’t realize that the city commission has made a definite decision to pursue water rights that we own in Edwards County. The answer to your question would be, yeah, we need to do more. We don’t have an immediate need for it. We were able to fight quite a difficult political battle not too many years ago and renovate our well field on Smoky Hill River ten miles south of town. That bought us a bunch of time. All that time that we have, by the way, another point you touched on, is contingent on people continuing to conserve. If we were to suddenly start consuming per capita the amount of water that’s average in the state of Kansas, we’d be in trouble, but thanks to our citizen understanding where they live and the need to conserve, that’s been a huge help [inaudible 00:42:39].

For our city to grow and have the water we need in the future, we have concluded that we need to go to Smoky Hill, which will require, for the very first time, invoking the Water Transfer Act. The Act has existed in Kansas law for a number of years, but nobody has ever actually used it, and to bring the water that far, we’re going to have to do that. That is quite a process. City attorney John Bird and Toby Dougherty, the city manager, have been working diligently on that for about a year now. I think people will start seeing and hearing more about it publicly before too long. Another point you raised, and you’ve written seriously a very good question, is not just Hays as the lone ranger, but what about western Kansas? I can’t offer a lot of hope for the entire western half of the state, but we have a partner in the city of Russell, and we’ve also talked to rural water districts around here. We’ve extended offers to Ellis, La Crosse, Victoria, a number of communities, to be part of this, truthfully, because it will help our case if it’s a regional solution instead of just for our city, but it also makes sense, that we have rights to enough water down there, more than we can use, so why not solve other people’s problem while we’re solving our own?

Chapman:
Since there is kind of a collective action problem here. I was talking to an individual who lives in another country in the northwestern part of the state who I will not identify because it’s a small enough county you probably … I tell you the county, I tell you who it is. The thrust of his comment to me was, “You can do whatever you want with residential water and business water here in the City of Hays, but the rest of this chunk of the state is so dependent especially on pivot irrigation agriculture, which uses a lot more water than most residences and here in this county … ” Their basic point was, “You guys with your oil production and your less agriculture production than us get on your high horse, talk about water as much as you want, but we need water for pivot agriculture. Leave us out of your restrictions.” What do you say to that?

Steward:
I think they’re too excited. Listen, I’m sympathetic. People might want to imagine farmers being rich or whatever, and actually, agriculture’s been pretty successful for a few years now, but it’s just like buying equipment if you have a business or paying for your home, you take out a mortgage. These farmers have invested tons of money into these wells and the irrigation equipment and so on. They can’t just stop using it, then they can’t pay the payments on them. They’re kind of in a trap, many of them. I think most of them, I don’t know about this one individual, but most of them realize that the overall aquifer is dropping precipitously. It cannot sustain the current rate of usage. Something needs to be done, not for the City of Hays, which doesn’t even get any water out of the Ogallala, but for the sake of the people who are using it.

Another really important point most people don’t realize is that … Actually, I was at a state water meeting here, and they were singing the praises of the City of Hays, because what we’ve done over the last thirty years or so really is extraordinary. Some agricultural people objected. They drive through town and they see the water running down the gutter somewhere and then they want to act like our consumption per capita isn’t half what it is everywhere else. There are abuses, obviously, but, anyway, they were talking about, “Well, what you’re doing, are you really saving much of anything?” I asked the question, knowing the answer, to the state officials, “How much of the water consumed in the state of Kansas is consumed by agriculture, and how much of the water consumed in the state of Kansas is consumed by municipalities?”

All the municipalities together, Wichita, Topeka, Hays, Dodge City, everybody, six percent of the water consumed. Agriculture consumes eighty-seven percent of it.

Chapman:
Wow. Eighty-seven?

Steward:
I like to eat, that’s not a criticism, but if you want a little perspective, that agricultural interests are consuming by vast majority of the water in the state. I think they’re the ones that need to find the solution to the problem they have, which is that the water is flowing away underground.

***PROGRAM BREAK***

Chapman:
The Governor’s gotten involved in that. There’s a new state-wide water initiative. He’s come out here to the western part of the state, had a few meetings there.

Steward:
That was part of the meeting I alluded to.

Chapman:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). He hasn’t obviously released a plan yet, but do you think we’re on the right track to getting the water consumption down to a level that’s going to be sustainable?

Steward:
I see nothing but false starts so far, but I think the necessity is so clear that eventually we’ll start taking some meaningful steps.

Chapman: Why the false starts? Is it just that they get pushed back and so they decide not to go forward with aggressive plans, or is there something else at work there?

Steward:
I think it’s … I started to say desperation. That’s probably too strong, but need, I think. You’ve got this investment in equipment, seed, fertilizer, the land you purchased. If you’re still paying for all of that, you’ve got to generate crops so that you have a money stream and you can pay for it. If reducing your water consumption by x amount is going to reduce your income by x amount and you can’t make your payments, it’s tough.

Chapman:
It is tough, and tough choices have been one of the things you’ve shared as a theme of making those tough choices during your time. Is there anything you look back on your tenure in the city commission and you say, “I wish I had a do-over on that”?

Steward:
The thing I was most disappointed in myself was my inability it seems so often to convince enough of my colleagues to vote the way I thought they should. You know what? If you take a specific issue, I probably wouldn’t change my mind on it, although there were a couple I would. I do always try to remind myself there are four other good people up there who studied and who work smart and so on, and if they prevail against my position, it might well be because they’re right and I was wrong.

Chapman:
You said there may have been one or two of those as you’re looking back?

Steward:
One thing I would have voted differently on was, oh, boy, twelve years ago, or it’s about ten years ago, whatever, because there was a little interruption of my service, but there was a move to ban smoking in restaurants in the City of Hays. I voted against it, and the reason I did that was mostly because we were down to literally about a dozen restaurants that allowed it at that point. The trend was, one after another, they were banning it on their own, and I’m like, “Why does the city need to step in when this is already happening?” As I look back on it, I think I was wrong. I think it was enough of a health issue that that should have overwritten every other consideration. If I had it to do over, I would vote differently on that. Of course, now it’s banned anyway, so fortunately I don’t have to feel too guilty about it.

Chapman:
What’s the opposite of that? Is there a crown jewel in your retrospective on your time in the commission? Is there something you’re proudest of?

Steward: Yeah. One we already talked about, and that was Randy Gustafson’s idea to pay for our general fund with a sales tax. I think that’s just turned out wonderfully for us. The other one, which I initiated, I take personal credit to an extent, and that is the terrible, terrible odor that used to hang over the City of Hayes from the Kansas State University Agricultural Research Center. When I brought this up, I said, “Whatever is done, it should not be done if it’s going to harm them in any way.” I don’t think people chose to hear that part of what I was saying, and I was kind of public enemy number one for a lot of the agricultural interests.

Dr. Bob Gillen, the head of the Research Center, and Dr. John Jaeger, who’s the beef cattle scientist out there, they agreed with me. Because my point was that’s what you exist for, is to do research, and all across the country we’re seeing this happen, the urban sprawl, agricultural operations, they’re coming up against each other. Wouldn’t this be a good thing to do research on and figure out some ways to handle this? John, he just did such a marvelous job of … One of the key things he did was to extend the concrete apron about six or eight feet so that when the cattle were feeding and relieving themselves, all that could be captured instead of going into the dirt. Just a simple little mechanical thing.

Anyway, he did a lot of other things too. Every once in a while you’ll catch a whiff of that under just the wrong circumstances …

Chapman:
Certainly not the consistent level it was, yeah.

Steward:
For those of us who have lived here for awhile, it used to just about take your breath away.

Chapman:
Yeah, and it was pretty consistent throughout the summertime, too.

Steward:
Yeah. They’ve just done marvelous things out there so that we’re better neighbors than we ever were.

Chapman:
I think that’s about all the time that we’ve got. I need to let you get back to campus and so on. Thanks so much for joining me. I always, as much as I study this stuff, I learn a lot when I get a chance to pick your brain a little bit.

Steward:
Thanks.

Chapman:
Thanks again.

Steward:
I enjoyed this.

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