These interviews ran as two separate stories in the Friday print edition.
Don Baragary is three and a half years into his first term in office as Cooper County presiding commissioner. Baragary is up for reelection during the Aug. 7 primary election.
What made you decide to run again?
I really enjoy the job and feel like we've made some progress. I would really like to continue that progress.
What should voters know about you as a person and as a candidate?
I've been around Cooper County since 1974. We raised our kids here, they grew up here and went through school here. My whole career in the construction business was right in Cooper County, so I know a lot of people. They know how I operate. I've done business with a lot of people in the county over the years, so they know me.
Of what accomplishments from your first term are you most proud?
We've taken the attitude, in the commissioners' office, to run it like a business. So, part of running it like a business is cutting wasteful spending and unneeded expenses. We're kind of a fixed income entity: sales tax can fluctuate a little bit, but property taxes pretty much stay level. In those three and a half years, we've been able to increase our reserves by a little more than $1.2 million.
Where do you draw the line between saving the county money and making sure that you're still providing citizens with essential services?
That's the important thing — we've actually improved services in a lot of areas, and we've done that by sound business practices. On the road and bridge side, we've changed the road maintenance from a complaint system to an actual maintenance system, so we're not just running around here and there reacting to complaints. We have a set schedule, and we have an awfully good crew. We've been able to do some things with equipment, upgrades to equipment, and that's saved us some equipment maintenance costs — fewer breakdowns, less downtime, gives them more time to do the actual work. On the 911, emergency management and sheriff's department side, so the public safety side, we've repaired some relationships between the dispatching services and all the entities in the county: the fire departments, law enforcement, ambulance district. We've greatly improved that service. Our job is not to hoard money, our job is to provide services. Yet, we would like to increase the reserves, because just like in your personal finances, you might have a bad year.
What are the core beliefs and issues that you're running on?
Running it like a business is my core belief, that it needs to be done that way. It's a business of the taxpayers. By good oversight over expenditures and working with the other county offices, everyone has been really good through the budgeting process and by doing that, sometimes we're able to provide them their wants and needs with a little assistance from their special funds that can really help out. Specifically, the sheriff's department: one of the biggest accomplishments, I guess, the jail, which is under the sheriff. Two years ago, we still had bonds on the jail and the interest rate was over four percent. We refinanced and lowered the interest rate to 1.39 percent and shortened the term from five years to three years. The jail will be paid off early in 2019.
If you are elected, how would you improve day-to-day life for the average Cooper County citizen?
Continue to improve roads and bridges. I think an important thing is that surrounding our county is a lot of crime. I think it's important to help fund the sheriff's department with their needs to prevent that from encroaching into the county. I see that as our number one issue. Sure, we have crime. But with Boone County just across the bridge, it's very important to try to stifle that crime from coming over here.
What would you say to any voters who may be concerned about your involvement in the recent Sunshine Lawsuit against the current county commissioners?
Obviously, there's not a lot I can say about that. However, they need to be assured that we did follow the law to the letter. It will all come out through the legal process. We are good on that front.
What action, if any, do you believe the county commissioners should take regarding the incoming Tipton East CAFO facility?
They're heavily regulated by the state DNR, and also at the national level. They have the science and the personnel to regulate that. We don't. Also, it's somewhat of a business decision. Other counties have enacted ordinances and lost some very large lawsuits, one as much as $300,000. We've done a lot to build our reserves, and we don't feel like we should do anything to threaten the financial status of the county.
Any final thoughts?
In a position like mine, any time you make a decision, somebody's happy and somebody's not. We work as a team. The Cooper County commission is not a one-person decision making body. It's a committee of three, and we take our jobs seriously.
Bill Embry is on the Aug. 7 ballot as a Republican candidate for the position of presiding commissioner in Cooper County. Embry previously served as an associate commissioner from 2004-2008.
What made you decide to run for this election?
Over a period of time, I had people talking about some things that they thought needed to be done when it came to looking at county government in different ways than maybe it had been in the past. One is our ambulance service. It is not good in all parts of the county. I don't know how to expand on that at this time without really getting in and looking at it, but I feel like there's a way that we ought to be able to include a lot more areas with that service simply because, as taxpayers, you pay for that. Roads and bridges are always an issue. With 911 services, people are wondering, I think, why exactly we outsourced — I know we contracted with Saline County. Maybe that's a good idea, maybe it's not. My idea is anytime you take something out of your county and depend on someone else to do it for you, you lose a certain amount of control that needs to stay at home. Maybe it was a good deal, maybe it wasn't. But I want to take a look at that if I'm elected.
What should voters know about you as a candidate and as a person?
Because of this CAFO issue, I've traveled all over the county. Everywhere I go, people know that I live in the area where this thing is proposed to be built. They automatically know that I have a concern there because of my friends, my family and my neighbors that are there. As we know, a health ordinance has been proposed for the county. There's a lot of concerned people there, particularly from the farming industry, that think this is going to shut the farms down. I don't happen to believe that at all. It is a way to safeguard, particularly the environment and level the playing field. They're a different league of their own, and they don't operate like our true family farmers here in the county. I just think, overall, over a period of time, if we don't do something to help stop it or make them meet the same regulations that are out there now that our farmers have to meet, the playing field is not level. They're going to come in and take over and they're going to squeeze out many of our farmers. That line of thinking, that to let them in is going to help the local people — it's not. Over a period of time, it's just been shown time and time again that air quality and water quality suffers. Once we lose our water — well, we can't exist without water. I think the other big issue with that is the numbers that are probably going to be built here as a result of that coming in. They have a contract and they build more barns, particularly the finishing barns.
What I'm seeing and hearing, I think, judging by the people I've talked to during this campaign, the majority of people will favor some type of health ordinance. I know we have a certain group out there that already has confinement operations — they feel like they're being targeted. That is not the case at all. I think that for the most part, those people have done as good of a job as they know how to do, until this point. I realize that if a health ordinance is passed, if they wanted to expand, then they would have to meet the guidelines. As it stands now, they would be grandfathered in.
What experience do you have that makes you most qualified for this position?
I served one term as associate commissioner. I also served in upper management 26 years and retired from the MO Department of Corrections as a unit manager. I have served as an acting warden on occasion, particularly at Tipton. I spent a lot of time as assistant chief of staff of training for the department of corrections for a number of years, where I was responsible for staff training for the entire department. At that time, we had 17 institutions, plus probation and parole people scattered across the state. I had a staff of 11 people and worked to develop four training programs that are still in place today.
That experience in that job gave me a lot of opportunities to talk to people and listen to people, and particularly talk to some people that are difficult to talk to. I think I have the ability to listen, I am open to ideas, I welcome new ideas, and I think that's what's important to county government, especially here at the local level. I think it's important to be open with people, even though you're not going to always make the most popular decision, you always give people the opportunity to express themselves.
What accomplishments during your time as county commissioner or your work with the Department of Corrections really stand out?
I worked with some federal people to bring training programs into the Department of Corrections that are still in place. I'm still proud of that.
What policy actions would you try to put in place?
In the presiding commissioner job, you are the spokesperson for the county commission. I want to bring as much unity and transparency into the courthouse as I possibly can, unity among all elected officials and staff. I think we ought to be able to walk across the hall if we have questions or if we have a problem.
How would you improve transparency in local government?
I think keeping communications open and making sure people feel like they can come to you at any time — I think that's just a good policy to have. You have to be open to them. If you say you're going to do something, do it. If you can't do it, be honest about that, too. I think most people are willing to work along those guidelines. I think it's a matter of being available and being able to sit down and talk things out and see what the problem is and go from there to come up with a solution.
If elected, how would you improve life for the average Cooper County citizen?
In a broad sense, if you have an open and transparent county government, people see that. If they call you and have concerns and see that you're open to that, people feel good about that. One way that I want to communicate is through the internet. I know we have a county website, I just think we need more information put on there. We should let people know what's going on in county government — put the agenda on that's going to be coming up and let people know what you're going to be doing. If they have concerns, then they have the opportunity to come in. I think that makes the people feel like government is open to them, that it's not just something going on at the courthouse.