Update: G.I. Mayor Candidates Debate Veterans Home, City Staffin - KHGI-TV/KWNB-TV/KHGI-CD-Grand Island, Kearney, Hastings

Update: G.I. Mayor Candidates Debate Veterans Home, City Staffing

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Grand Island, NE - Two of Grand Island’s candidates for mayor say they'd fire the current city administrator.

The issue came up in a debate between Jeremy Jensen, Chuck Haase and Mayor Jay Vavricek Monday.

Jensen and Haase said they'd get rid of Administrator Mary Lou Brown.

“I would hire a different city administrator, perhaps one with metro experience,” said Haase.

“My intention would be to replace the city administrator. That being said, I would want to target local people before going on a nationwide search.”

Vavricek said turnover in that position wouldn't be good for the city.

“Is that type of change in the CEO, the head of the organization, is that wise? Is that good? A tenure of two years for that top person is not good for any organization,” he said.

Last year Vavricek asked for Brown’s resignation, but reinstated her months later. He also tried to oust City Attorney Bob Sivick. When asked about those decisions, Vavricek replied, “It would be my intention that each of those individuals would remain employed.”

The candidates faced questions on Grand Island’s housing shortage and a lack of minorities in city government, but it was the city's image as a whole that sparked the most emotional debate.

"The image problem is real outside of these borders and that's what needs to be fixed,” said Haase. “It's not that we're not successful, because we are; but we are successful despite the image problem."

Haase said a dozen department leaders leaving the city in the last four years contributed to that problem. Jensen agrees.

"If you're going to attract people to the community their perception needs to be that this is a positive and vibrant community, otherwise, it's going to be really difficult to continue to grow," he said.

But, Vavricek said those he hears from praise the city.

"When I host any number of different groups they can't believe Grand Island, the Heartland Events Center,” he said. “They can't believe the outstanding agriculture facilities at the state fair. They marvel at the Heartland Public Shooting Park."

Another challenge - with six labor agreements up for negotiation this year and a new metropolitan status, how will Grand Island pay for increasing salaries?

The candidates all agreed trimming the budget is the first step.

"We have to cut spending. This is why we have increases in taxes," said Haase.

Vavricek said his administration’s program prioritization approach is working.

"Back to back city budgets without a tax increase. Going forward, I’m not going to take the easy way out and say there's no way to do this, but raise taxes. We're doing just the opposite," he said.

"I think it's foolish for any of the three of us to say that there won't be tax increases," said Jensen.

The candidates agreed they would continue to fight to keep the Grand Island Veterans Home in G.I., though the state awarded the new facility to Kearney last year.

"If we get to the point where the state does move it, we need to work with the state as our partners. We need to work with the CRA and we need to work with the community to see what we do with the facility," said Haase.

"We are not giving up on the veterans home. I've launched into and asked for the CRA for redevelopment ideas so we can go ahead and partner and potentially save the veterans home," said Vavricek.

"I'm not saying give up on it, but I’m saying we need to start having some realization that there's a very high probability that we do lose it," said Jensen.

Jensen also criticized G.I.’s proposal, saying the current renovation plan should have been given to the state and more veterans should have been involved in the process.

If the state gives the land back to the city, Jensen suggested it could be used for a new high school or to help with G.I.’s housing issues.

Two candidates will emerge from the primary on May 13, and face off in the general election.

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