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Two seats on the Cole County Commission will be on the ballot in the Aug. 4 primary election.

The race for Eastern District Commissioner has two Republican candidates — Rick Mihalevich and incumbent Jeff Hoelscher. Three Republican candidates — Gary Bemboom, Harry Otto and incumbent Kris Scheperle — are running for Western District Commissioner.

No candidates filed to seek the positions in other parties, so the winners of the Republican primary will face no opposition in the Novebmer general elections.

The News Tribune asked each candidate to answer the following two questions, the second of which was submitted by a reader.

Candidates are listed in the order they will appear on the ballot.

Eastern District Commissioner

Rick Mihalevich just completed an eight-year stint on the Jefferson City Council, where he served as chair of the city's Budget Committee. He recently retired from teaching at State Technical College of Missouri and serves on the Jefferson City Port Authority Board.

Jeff Hoelscher is serving his 12th year as Eastern District commissioner, owns construction and remodeling business Hoelscher Enterprises, and is a former St. Thomas council member.

Should the County Commission determine each time the American flag at the courthouse should be lowered for a state or national proclamation? Why or why not?

Mihalevich: "It costs the county nothing to lower the flag. It is a sign of respect for human life, and I would follow the president and governor orders to lower the flag."

Hoelscher: "Yes. An ordinance passed in 2012 gives direction on county policy regarding lowering flags to half-staff, due to a series of proclamations by the president for lowering flags after mass shootings. The ordinance includes all dates specified in federal statute. The federal statute also says the president can issue a proclamation for other dates as he/she sees appropriate. The commission ordinance states the county will lower the flag on those other occasions specified by the president, and also dates specified by the governor, by consensus of the commission. Until now, the commission has lowered county flags only on the dates specified by Congress.

"The commissioners believed that people are murdered every day and that a life taken individually or in a smaller group is no less worthy of memorializing than a life taken in a larger group situation. Honoring only victims of mass murders implies less respect for other victims.

"It is the commission's opinion that when the president uses the term 'public buildings' in the proclamations, that applies to federal buildings only and he does not have authority to dictate protocol for local government or state buildings. In fact, the governor's proclamations lowering the flag specify only state buildings."

In November 2018, a group of Cole County residents proposed a "Putting Kids First" 1/4-cent sales tax that would develop a Cole County Community Children's Service Fund to help fund services for youth like crisis intervention, school-based prevention programs, home-based intervention programs and outpatient substance abuse treatment.

The County Commission ultimately decided not to put it to a public vote because the proposal didn't have enough signatures to be put on a ballot as a petition. With all of the challenges facing our community, especially our children, do you think the people should be allowed to decide if the children's services fund is a good idea, or should the politicians make that determination for the people?

Mihalevich: "I know by working with and listening to public safety officials that our county does have serious issues to address related to the health and safety of our children. I would like to be a part of the solution but would need more information on the scope of services, oversight and accountability of such programs before I can support a specific proposal. Ultimately, a sales tax increase should be decided by the voters."

Hoelscher: "There is a process for groups to get their questions or tax on the ballot. They just need to go through it appropriately. There were also a lot of questions about this tax. Who controlled it? Who decides ultimately where the money goes? What would it do to other agencies that get their money voluntarily donated to them and not forced by tax? I do not feel putting a tax question on the ballot is a good idea in general. We are asking people to tighten their belts, deal with issues (like this COVID), and I don't think it is appropriate for us to go to them asking for more money when the government needs to be doing the same (tightening its belts and spending within its means)."

Western District Commissioner

Gary Bemboom has been a business owner in Mid-Missouri for many years. He previously owned a heating and cooling business as well as some convenience stores, although he has now sold most of his convenience stores.

Harry Otto has spent his career working in public accounting and spent some time working for the Missouri Department of Revenue. He also previously served as deputy state auditor, a legislative tax fiscal analyst for the Missouri General Assembly and most recently as the legislative director for the Missouri Department of Economic Development.

Kris Scheperle is serving his second term as Western District commissioner and owns All Seasons Landscaping and Construction. The News Tribune did not receive Scheperle's responses to the proposed questions.

Should the County Commission determine each time when the American flag at the courthouse should be lowered for a state or national proclamation? Why or why not?

Bemboom: "The president of the United States of America is our leader, whether that person is a Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Independent, Green Party. Sometimes we may not agree with every decision or order they may direct to us as citizens, but nonetheless we are to follow his/her order. I was taught that the flag flew at half-staff for our military personnel that were killed in the line of duty and presidents that have passed. Things have changed over the years as you all know. But the president is still our leader, and we should abide by his/her order. Cole County is a county in the state of Missouri, which is part of the United States of America."

Otto: "When a proclamation to lower the flag is issued by our president or our governor in order to honor, respect, recognize or remember an event or person, the flag on Cole County government property should be lowered.

"If a majority of the county commissioners determine that flags should not be lowered and the proclamation will not be effective on county-owned property, then commissioners should publicly announce their decision and explain why they have decided to not follow the proclamation.

"With the current policy in effect, there have been times the flag has not been lowered, simply because commissioners have been too busy with other duties to respond to a proclamation. As a result, the flag is lowered on federal, state and city properties along with privately owned business properties within Cole County, yet not lowered on county-owned properties.

"The standard practice should be to follow the proclamation."

In November 2018, a group of Cole County residents proposed a "Putting Kids First" 1/4-cent sales tax that would develop a Cole County Community Children's Service Fund to help fund services for youth like crisis intervention, school-based prevention programs, home-based intervention programs, and outpatient substance abuse treatment.

The County Commission ultimately decided not to put it to a public vote because the proposal didn't have enough signatures to be put on a ballot as a petition. With all of the challenges facing our community, especially our children, do you think the people should be allowed to decide if the children's services fund is a good idea, or should the politicians make that determination for the people?

Bemboom: "I am not familiar with the 'Putting Kids First' program. I believe that all kids need to be protected, fed and to be educated. As far as a 1/4-cent sales tax, I don't know if that is the best way to fund the program. If schools do not go back in session this fall, maybe some funding could come through the school system. As for putting it on a ballot for all registered voting residents, that would seem fair. Not that people don't love kids and want the best for them, but we already pay real estate tax, school tax, sales tax, road tax, fuel tax, medical bills, utilities, etc. I don't know what it will cost to put on a ballot, but I think if residents of Cole County feel strongly enough to put it on a ballot, we should let all registered voting residents decide."

Otto: "The people should be allowed to decide if they want to impose a sales tax on themselves for this issue, much like the times they have decided on other self-imposed sales taxes for law enforcement, EMS ambulance service and renewals of the capital improvements sales tax.

"Our Cole County Residential Services is operated with a self-imposed property tax that was decided by a ballot measure over 30 years ago. One might consider how important this ballot measure has been for citizens of our county.

"Ballot measures do come with a cost. I understand that proponents have pledged to contribute funding to cover the cost to administer this proposal."

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