by Bill Bush
HALSTEAD—The City of Halstead Council has two four-year and one two-year positions up for election in November. The positions are currently held by Denice Klassen, George Torres and Deric Lanham. Five people—Denice Klassen, Deric Lanham, Charles Robinson, George Torres, and Shawna Will—have registered to be on the ballot.
The city also has one two-year term position up for election in November. The position is currently held by Dennis Travis. He is the only person registered to be on the ballot.
During the city council forum last Wednesday evening, three of the five candidates—Charles Robinson, Shawna Will, and Deric Lanham—and the lone mayoral candidate (Dennis Travis) participated. Incumbents Denice Klassen and George Torres did not attend the forum. Torres contacted Harvey County Now after the forum was scheduled to let them know he was scheduled to travel that day and wouldn’t return to Halstead in time for the event.
Charles Robinson (City Council)
Charles Robinson, a retired 52-year employee of the school district, moved to Halstead in 1972 and into town in 1987. His children attended USD-440.
Robinson said he’s served as a deacon in his church, was president of the golf course back when it had sand greens, served in the Lions Club, and has been on the Kansas Learning Center for Health’s board for 27 years.
He said that he is running for the city council from a sense of civic duty. He said that the community and the school district have been very good to him and his family.
“I took it as my turn to do something for this community,” Robinson said. “I feel like I’ve done quite a bit for the school district in 52 years. I view it as you can either be a part of the solution or part of the problem. I prefer to be part of the solution.”
He believes the role of a good council member is to be a good listener and act in the best interest of the constituents. The top issue for Robinson is to pave the streets.
Other issues he thinks are important to the citizens of Halstead are a lack of housing and childcare.
“If you’re going to bring people to a community and expect the community to grow, you’re going to have to have some place for them to live and someplace for them to have their kids before they get into the school system,” Robinson said.
In closing, Robison said he believes the best decisions are those made by the people they affect. He said that he’s not in love with the state legislature because they continuously impose restrictions on the counties that get imposed on the cities.
“There’s some overreach,” Robinson said. “I think as a city we need to investigate when there’s overreach and speak up. ‘This is overreach. Leave us alone. We get to make those decisions.’”
Shawna Will (City Council)
Shawna Will grew up in Halstead and is a Halstead High School graduate. She returned six years ago with her husband and two sons to teach sixth-grade math. Her sons attend USD-440, she’s helped coach youth sports, and is involved with her church, volunteering for VBS and other activities.
Will said her first writing assignment for her sixth graders was what it means to have Dragon pride, because she grew up in Halstead and has a lot of pride in the community.
“When I look around the community, there’s just some things that are concerning,” Will said. “I decided I could either sit back or I can step up and hopefully be part of the solution. So my inspiration is to step up and be part of a solution that would continue to produce a community that brings pride to the residents of Halstead.”
She said the most important issue to her is the continued development of the parks and recreation facilities. Other issues she’s heard about from residents are housing, roads, parks and rec and accountability.
She believes the council’s role in the community is to be a listener, a voice, be active, and not be afraid to make tough decisions.
If elected, she said the first few months of serving would be a challenge for her because she’s taking a college course that meets on Monday nights. The city council meets on the second and fourth Mondays of each month at 7 p.m.
Will said that if everyone has a common goal to move the community forward, remain safe, and hold true to its values and traditions, then they have to fight for that.
“That’s what I’m willing to do,” Will said. “It would be an honor to hold a position as a representative of the community that has meant so much to me and to let people know that I am a listening ear […] I would welcome the conversations. I feel like if we’re not talking about it, we don’t share it, then we can’t really do anything about it to move forward.”
Deric Lanham (City Council)
Deric Lanham and his wife own Halstead Floral at the Plaza in downtown Halstead. He grew up in Halstead and moved his family back to the small town’s safety after living in California for 20 years. Since returning, he’s joined the Lions Club and become president of the Alumni Association.
He said he was approached two years ago to fill a vacant seat on the council. As a business owner, he saw the need to serve. He also wants to help keep the town safe.
The role of a council member is to be on call 24 hours a day and to be a voice of the community, according to Lanham. He said in his two years on the council, he’s only missed two meetings. He’s also been in the minority in voting on issues and has supported the majority vote.
If he could address one issue, it would be expansion, getting land purchased and starting development.
He said that Halstead is in a unique spot, being 30 minutes from both Wichita and Hutchinson.
“Right now, the hot thing is microchips,” Lanham said. “A facility can bring jobs and growth.”
In closing, Lanham said that what is important to him is the community.
“I appreciate Halstead,” Lanham said. “That’s my main concern. I want everyone to know that. This is a place that I feel it is safe, and I feel that families can grow here. We can all grow as a community.”
Dennis Travis (Mayor)
Dennis Travis moved to Halstead in 2011. He joined the city council in 2013 and lost the mayoral race in 2017. After two years out of city government, he won the mayor election in 2019.
He told the forum audience that he grew up in southwest Iowa in a town smaller than Halstead. From afar, he’s watched his hometown deteriorate and is determined not to let that happen in Halstead.
“This community is picturesque, in my opinion,” Travis said.
He said he’s lived in Wichita and hated it.
“Halstead is my town,” he said.
As mayor, Travis is involved with the Harvey County Economic Development and Harvey County Council of Governments and partners with other communities on various projects. He’s involved with the American Legion, Sons of the Legion, and runs a mobile DJ company.
When asked what one issue he would address, Travis said Azzy Reckess’s properties, and, “I think I’m doing that.”
He said the residents of Halstead want streets, abandoned properties, development of the Industrial Park, and sidewalk issues addressed.
Travis said that he’s very proud to serve Halstead.
“One thing that’s interesting to me is I’ve seen results today of discussions started 10 years ago when I was a council member,” Travis said. “Seeing some of those projects come to fruition and finish out is very important to me.”
He reminded people that just after he started his terms as mayor, COVID hit, and then just as he felt he was getting settled from that, the astronomical gas bill came.
“Those were some of the most difficult discussions I’ve had with residents of Halstead,” Travis said. “I think the city is headed in a great direction. I will try to steer the ship as long as you let me.”