There are eight candidates running for six seats on the Independence city council, though one has dropped out. They answer questions from LINK nky below, beginning with the incumbents, followed by the challengers.
Editor’s notes: An earlier version of this story was published without responses from candidate Gregory Steffen. His responses were added after initial publication but a technical error brought the story offline. LINK nky regrets that error and apologizes to the candidates and voters. Additionally, Sara Wagner Shvartz is also a new candidate running for Independence council but she could not be reached for participation. Candidate Amy Engelman dropped out of the race.
QUESTION (for incumbents): What do you see are the main issues facing your city?
Chris Vogelpohl: The main issue affecting our city right now is like many others. That is the ability to attract and retain highly qualified police officers. I will always back our outstanding police department 100%. Currently I am part of a work group designed to focus on this issue. In the budget that we just passed we were able to give our police department significant raises to bring them in line with other departments in our region. The raises are a starting point towards retention, as we probe deeper into other outlying issues to retention of officers.
Greg Waite: I think we face the same issues as most cities, affordable housing, park vandalism, and getting better streets. We have experienced rapid growth and with that comes the need for services to be met. I don’t want retention in our departments to feel like a revolving door. We have worked on keeping our staff competitive with other cities as far as pay. We need to offer more money training opportunities for all departments. We would all benefit from a well experienced Police Force and our great Public Works department.
Dave Shafer: These are not issues but the main focus in our city: Population Growth, Commercial Growth, and First Responder support.
Tom Brinker: the main issues we face is smart growth though out the City, providing the amenities the Citizens want without sacrificing the small-town feel.
Carol Franzen: As the city continues to grow we need to make sure we have smart growth to maintain the small town feel we currently have. Obviously commercial and industrial growth is good for a community to keep taxes low for its residents but, doing it in a controlled smart manner helps maintain the community feel we have here in Independence. Growth is good but letting it explode without any thought for the future is a great way for the city to lose its “cozy” feel. As all cities around the nation are struggling with hiring and keeping police, it is important that we value and support our police officers and stay competitive with compensation and other benefits to maintain the officers we have but to also attract other officers to work here. We have made several steps recently that has brought our police force back to almost full staff but now the goal is keep them here. Pay is very competitive right now throughout Northern Kentucky and we must remain competitive with those cities. We have a great police force and it is important to keep it that way.
Road repair is always an issue in our community. We have many city streets and we are always adding more and it is important to stay on top of road repair and constantly review plans and update street surveys to make sure we have the funds to repair roads most in need.
QUESTION (for incumbents): What are your chief accomplishments while you have been on council?
Chris Vogelpohl: I cannot say that I have a chief accomplishment of my own. Our council is blessed that we work well together even when we disagree. We have a top-notch administrative staff that does the hard work. One of the most important things that this entire group has accomplished is the ability to lower property taxes for 2 consecutive years, while keeping the city in good financial shape.
Greg Waite: We have been able the last 2 years to reduce taxes.
Dave Shafer: Participating in all meetings and activities I can and understanding what is happening in the city. There is much more than what happens at a City Council meeting.
Tom Brinker: one of my greatest accomplishments has been the ability to provide quality services for the Citizens without raising taxes, this has been a challenge the last couple of years but working together we have been able to lower the tax rate this year.
Carol Franzen: We have been able to lower the tax rate in the city for two years in a row and prior to that we have been able to keep the tax rate the same for several years as well. With a budget of over ten million dollars, we have managed to maintain a balanced budget while improving services. Council has worked with the mayor to help bring in the new industrial park along 536 which will bring much needed tax dollars into the city which will relieve some of the tax burden on residents. This will also attract more sit-down restaurants because as more commercial and industrial comes into the city, we will have a “lunch crowd” which is a large factor for a lot of sit-down restaurants when they are looking to come into a community.
We have expanded Memorial Park by adding another basketball court as well as pickle ball courts and we are close to bidding on a project to tier the amphitheater steps. We have also repaired more streets than ever before, and our public works department is doing an awesome job at performing work in house which is saving taxpayers money.
QUESTION (for incumbents): What projects would you like to see accomplished while you are on council?
Chris Vogelpohl: Again, I do not have any “pet” projects, or individual goals to accomplish while serving on council. One thing that I do hope to see continue is money to be well spent in keeping our city streets, infrastructure, and parks among the nicest in the region. We have recently been able to make upgrades to our park system and increase road maintenance projects thanks to an influx of unexpected money from the federal government in the form of “Covid Relief.” I hope to see our strategic plan of maintenance and improvements continue even when the “covid money” is gone.
Greg Waite: This administration has worked well with developing a plan of adding 100 million dollars’ worth of projects that have very minimal impact on any of our neighborhoods. This should add around another $1 million to city budget through payroll and property and will create jobs.
Dave Shafer: The work being done on city parks, especially Memorial Park. The Downs of Nicholson – this is going to be a game changer.
Tom Brinker: I would like to see continued progress of the road repair plans we have in place. We are fortunate that we have been able to aggressively repair and replace aging streets within the city. Also, I want to continue to provide a quality Police department.
I would also like to see continued improvements to the Parks that we have, I am pleased that we are available to terrace the amphitheater this coming year. This has been a long-standing goal.
Carol Franzen: I would like to see the completion of the Cody Road bridge. We have plans in place to replace the culvert so the bridge will flood less often and to also repave that section of road. I also want to see the completion of the industrial park on 536 as well as the One Holland Project on the corners of 16 and 17.
It is one of my goals to see the undeveloped commercial property we have in this city be developed by business that will bring advantages to the community. One focus is the shopping center at Cherokee on Taylor Mill Road. It is my goal to see thriving business that will serve the community as well as be good neighbors to the citizens that live behind it. Something more than storage or warehouse type businesses. Businesses that will serve the community needs like shopping and restaurants.
QUESTION (for incumbents): What do you see as your greatest strength, the quality you can bring to the table to get things done in your city?
Chris Vogelpohl: One of my greatest strengths is that I listen to our citizens. I am only on council because they voted me into this position, and it is my job to be their voice. I am also not afraid to have disagreements with my colleagues on council. Differing points of view are vital to the process of government. However, we all too often see these differing points of view become personal and political. The Independence City Council is full of exceptional people who do not take disagreements personally. We always respect each other, even when our opinions differ.
Greg Waite: I bring a lot of knowledge to this council, having served 6 years to date. I also served on the code enforcement board for 2 years, I have finished the first level of trading and nearly finished with the next of the KLC trading program. I love my community; I am heavily involved in this City, and I would be honored to serve again.
Dave Shafer: Teamwork – the ability to sit at the table and listen.
Tom Brinker: I think my greatest strength is my ability to listen to what the citizens desire and make prudent decisions on how to achieve the desired results. I also believe I bring experience to the City Council that allows me to solve different issues that come before me.
Carol Franzen: My experience on counsel and my love for this community is my greatest strength. Because of my tenure on council, I have gained a lot of knowledge and connections that will help benefit our community. I have experience with budgets and zoning. I have made many connections with other officials on the county and state levels that helps accomplish more projects and obtain more grants. I have knowledge of the past mistakes and what has worked and not worked and can help guide others to not make the same mistakes again. I listen to the people. I don’t just do what developers want me to do. My focus is on the people that live here and doing what is best for them and making sure the business we put here serve the community in the best way possible. I support development but I support development that benefits those that live here. Everyone’s voices should be heard but those that pay the bills and have to live here should be first on the list.
QUESTION (for incumbents): Where do you see your city in ten years?
Chris Vogelpohl: Our city is on the verge of rapid growth with the 536-road project in full swing. When this road is completed, Independence could explode with growth. The main thing I hear people say is that they like the “small town feel” of Independence. I hope to maintain that small town feel 10 years from now through smart managed growth.
Greg Waite: Looking forward it’s hard to truly say what the city will look like in 10 years. With 536 expected to be in the works it will be the top item of how to maintain a small-town feel. It will take some work but can be done.
Dave Shafer: A great city where you would be proud to raise a family and be part of a great community.
Tom Brinker: I would like to see the city maintain the same small town feel we have now while improving the quality of services by establishing a strong tax base that doesn’t rely on the residential tax base as the primary source of tax income.
Carol Franzen: I hope to see a city in sound financial shape. That can provide the infrastructure support and services the community needs without financial strain on taxpayers. I hope to see a city that attracts others for entertainment and services instead of our citizens having to leave to find it. I hope to see the completion of 536 and a thriving corridor of businesses without encroaching on the peacefulness of our residential areas. I hope to see a city of great parks and family entertainment.
QUESTION (for new candidates): What specifically made you put your name on the ballot?
Gregory Steffen: When I served on city council before I felt we had made a lot of progress getting a grip on development. We had abolished flag lots, removed planned unit developments from our zoning code, decided that there would be no approvals of zoning changes for additional apartments, and resolved that we would never let the threats of lawsuits by developers influence our decisions. This was not an attempt to stop development, several new subdivisions were begun during this time. What we were doing was forcing development to stay within the zoning parameters. In recent years it seems like our city council will approve anything. This makes the developers happy but does nothing for the people that live here but diminish their quality of life through the congestion that we face every day. A brake needs to be put on this.
QUESTION: What do you want to change if you are elected?
Gregory Steffen: I want the city to stop approving reductions in lot size for new developments and approve no new multifamily housing zones. I also want to reduce the city tax rate and add more parks. All things that will help the people that live here.
QUESTION: What qualifications do you want to highlight that will make people vote for you?
Gregory Steffen: I am a fifth-generation resident of Kenton County. I am a retired air traffic controller that has worked all over the country, from American Samoa to Washington, D.C. and multiple places in between, including CVG Airport. When I worked at FAA Headquarters, I was responsible for managing the licensing program for all controllers in the country. I have a B.S. in anthropology from Northern Kentucky University and an M.A. in pastoral theology from St. Joseph’s College of Maine.
QUESTION: Is there something specific you would like to change in the city?
Gregory Steffen: Our zoning policy needs to be changed to favor the people that already live here and not the profits of developers. I would like to see pocket parks placed in every new development.
QUESTION: Where do you see your city in ten years?
Gregory Steffen: Growth will continue and needs to be managed.