IT’S A HIGHLIGHTED LOCAL RACE AT TUESDAY’S ELECTION
Two candidates are vying for the open Platte County presiding commissioner seat in the Tuesday, Nov. 8 general election after Ron Schieber, who has served in that position for eight years, announced he will not run for re-election.
Political newcomer and Democratic candidate John DeFoor says he started delving into local politics while furloughed for a year from his job as a conductor for the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF), a position he has held for the past 11 years.
“I had a lot of time to research,” he said, stating he watched online local meetings of the Platte County Commission to learn about issues and how the public body operates. However, soon after DeFoor launched his campaign, he was diagnosed with COVID and he says it proved nearly fatal despite his status as fully vaccinated. If he survived, his family and friends were not sure if he would be well enough to continue the race, so they set a deadline for withdrawing his name, according to a campaign press release.
Doctors credit the vaccine with saving his life, but the experience left the Kansas City man with a sense of purpose and determination.
“It has made me realize family life and friends…not to take anything for granted because tomorrow, you may not have it,” he said.
The realization also helped fuel his decision to continue the race for presiding commissioner with the end goal, he says, of helping to transform the county commission into a body that’s more transparent and fiscally responsible.
DeFoor said he disagrees with the way the county commission handled the distribution of CARES Act grant money during the pandemic and goes so far as to describe the process as “a disaster.” DeFoor said the list of CARES Act recipients, which he received after submitting a Sunshine request to the commission, was too partisan and reads like a “who’s who of Republican party members, friends and family and other donors.”
Platte County received $12.2 million in federal funding after the government-ordered shutdown. During the spring of 2021, commissioners approved more than 80 grant applications. The 48-year-old DeFoor said what he considers as a lack of transparency caused him to submit the Sunshine request, which he received. DeFoor said he believed more money should have been allotted to the Platte County Health Department for things such as salaries, testing, education, PPE (personal protective equipment), which many health workers reported were in short supply during the pandemic.
“There seems to be a battle between the health department and the commissioners and I’m not sure why,” said DeFoor, who, with his wife, Rori, has been a resident of Platte County for the past 17 years and the couple has two children. He specifically objected to money donated to little league baseball, such as Metro Umpires of Kansas City, since “organizations that are essentially non-profit are supposed to be funded by participants’ parents” and umpires do not perform their duties as full-time jobs.
“I have nothing against using the money for sports, but I think we had other pressing needs,” he said. “I love sports up here, but let’s take care of the people who are actually suffering,” said DeFoor, who has a bachelor’s degree in social psychology with a minor in business administration management and is seeking a master’s degree in public administration with a minor in public policy from Park University.
During door-to-door campaign stops, residents complain about the Mid-Continent Public Library board’s recent decision to reduce funding after voters overwhelmingly had approved a tax levy increase in 2016. DeFoor believes the decision reflects on county commissioners since they are the ones who appoint members to the Mid-Continent board.
“If voters fund the library, then a group shouldn’t have the ability to override that vote of the people,” he said.
He also said many voters want to know his opinions on the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol. He said while Platte County voters tend to vote Republican in many races, he said voters’ criticism of the violence that accompanied the January 6 rioting will draw more Democrats to cast ballots in November.
He said voters also want to know whether he agrees with the assumption by some, including Donald Trump, that the presidential election was “stolen” by Democrats and supporters of President Joe Biden. “I’m telling everybody the election was legitimate and the people involved in the insurrection should face consequences,” he said.
DeFoor said the current make-up of the Platte County appointed boards and commissions does not represent local voters.
“They have no interest in letting Democrats serve,” he said. “That’s not an equal representation of our community.”
Republican candidate Scott Fricker points to his experience as a member of several local Platte County boards and the support of Ron Schieber, the current presiding commissioner as reasons to cast ballots in his favor.
Fricker was a member of the Small Business Advisory Board, which was charged with recommending to the Platte County Commission where to spend federal government CARES Act money. The board had no authority but acted as an advisory group, he said. However, Fricker said he agreed with the commission’s priorities on small business, even naming the board “small business.” He said the funds were designed to ease the burden of COVID on local communities and the advisory board met weekly to name numerous small businesses they deemed worthy of receiving a portion of the allotted $12 million.
Fricker said he is proud of the board’s work despite some public criticism of their decisions. “I get grief all the time for not giving money to the local school districts (and the health department), but people just don’t understand…” he said, adding that commissioners decided to prioritize small businesses. “We were only tasked with reviewing small business applications and had no say in how the total pot of funds was divvied up,” he said.
One disbursement which was controversial with some residents, was the decision to give a grant to the Umpires Association of Kansas City. While Fricker was a little league baseball coach for 13 years, he said the decision to give funds to the group was the right move and not motivated by favoritism. The association was not initially approved for the grant and “I think they’d agree it was more difficult (than for others) for them to get approved,” he said of the application process. He said a baseball season was lost to the pandemic and umpires were not working due to games not being held. In addition, he said he considers his 13 years as a little league coach a form of community service and is proud of that effort.
Some also were critical of the board’s recommendation to offer funding to a travel agency.
“In our view, everybody who was receiving a paycheck and trying to put food on the table was an essential worker, whether a travel employee or an umpire or a waiter or waitress,” he said.
Fricker is owner/operator of a real estate commercial investment company, FPG (Fricker Property Group) Investments, which he operates from his home.
He said the Platte County Commission also appointed him to the Platte County Board of Equalization, a post he held for more than two years. He also sits on the Industrial Development Authority Board, where he has served for three years.
Fricker, who owns two commercial properties in Clay and one in Jackson County, said the equalization group is charged with mediating property valuation disputes which determine property taxes while the industrial board determines infrastructure financing for future developments.
“For those projects to work, it requires infrastructure in advance (of the development),” he said, adding that they complement one another and “are all tied together through my interest in (and support of) economic development and prosperity,” he said.
Fricker, who is 59, has lived in unincorporated Platte County near Parkville for the past three years, but for 14 years prior lived in Parkville.
He grew up in northern California and is married to Kelly and they have two children. He has worked in commercial real estate for the past 25 years, and the couple decided to reside here and raise a family after he visited the area to purchase commercial property.
“We like the idea of living in the Midwest…good schools, low crime and affordable,” he said.
The couple are members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Auxiliary, in honor of their fathers, who both served in the Vietnam War.
“We’re military supporters in this family,” said Fricker, who holds a bachelor of science in agricultural and managerial economics.
Fricker declined to address “controversial topics,” but said he’s hearing from voters a concern about crime and the economy. “One of the main things people want in life is safe neighborhoods,” he said. To combat crime, he throws his support behind the county’s prosecutor and sheriff (he said he has their official endorsements and that of the Fraternal Order of Police.)
He said about half of Platte County residents live within the limits of Kansas City but said the Northland’s status as having the highest response times in Kansas City is unfair to other areas of the city. “They deserve better,” he said, adding that if he’s elected presiding commissioner, his focus will be on encouraging Missouri state legislators to fully fund local law enforcement.
Fricker said he’ll work to make sure the Platte County sheriff and prosecutor “have the tools they need” to adequately police the area and added, “I’m fully in favor of funding Platte County law enforcement and support the state’s efforts to force Kansas City to fully fund the police department.”
He said he also believes overcrowding at the Platte County jail should be addressed and it requires more available beds to house those convicted. He said, “One solution is to let people out and that’s not my solution.”