Park Hills voters will soon decide between four candidates seeking election as the city's mayor. The election will be held on Tuesday, and the candidates have shared information to give voters an idea of where they stand in seeking election.
David W. Easter, 65, has lived in Park Hills for 39 years and has been married to his wife, Betty, since 1985.
He graduated from Mineral Area College in 1975 and then Southeast Missouri State University in 1977 with a bachelor's degree in English, speech, and drama.
After college, Easter was a teacher from 1977-1994. He opened Not Just Comix in downtown Park Hills in 1992 and has operated the business for nearly 30 years.
When asked what motivated him to seek election as mayor, Easter mentioned the need for strong leadership to overcome the city's challenges.
"There are problems facing us that require experience and leadership to brave the challenges before us," said Easter. "As mayor, I want to expand our city through growth in business, growth in services, and growth in population.
"The Easter Administration successfully recruited new businesses to the area by establishing a friendly environment for commerce," he said. "My vision for the future of Park Hills is to expand opportunities for entrepreneurs to develop their businesses with the assistance and guidance from Mineral Area College business instructors, Southeast Economic Development Fund staff, and area bankers."
Easter said safety for Park Hills citizens has always been a top priority for him, whether it be through the police department, the fire department, or the utilities department.
"In order to bring in customers, tourists, and businesses, we must promote a safe environment," he said.
Regarding what makes him qualified for the council position, Easter cited his terms as mayor of Park Hills from 2009-17 and his four terms as Ward 2 council member.
Easter is a member of Farmington Masonic Lodge #132 and is a charter member of both the Downtown Park Hills Association (DPHA) and the Old No. 9 Garden Club. He also served as president of the DPHA from 2006-2020.
Concerning his goals and objectives, if elected, Easter said infrastructure improvements would be a priority.
"I would concentrate on the city's infrastructure, as the Easter Administration did in the past," he explained. "We would budget for street and sidewalk improvements, updating curbs and gutters, and replacing antiquated water pipes in sewage lines.
"Guidelines for flooding issues would be followed," he said. "Maintenance would continue for the Sports Complex, Haney Park, Columbia Park, and other areas."
Easter said building up the city's cash reserves would be another goal.
"Depending on the overall budget, I would propose to set aside $50,000-$100,000 per budget year to build up the reserves to levels not seen since the Easter Administration," he said.
Easter said he believes the city has several components that could bring more people to the area.
"Park Hills has an excellent public school system and community college," he noted. "We have a variety of stores and parks. The city should encourage investors to build new homes in order for our population to increase."
John Clark, 61, lives in Park Hills with his wife, Jayne. He has two adult children, Grayson and Emily, and one granddaughter, Harper.
Clark graduated from Central High School in 1978, before attending Mineral Area College from 1978-80. In 2016, he retired from Ameren Missouri, where he worked as a superintendent of distribution control. Clark had worked at the company for 33 years.
Clark said he had been involved with the City of Park Hills since its inception.
"My wife and I built our home here, we have raised our family here, and I want to see the best for the community," said Clark on his motivation for seeking election as mayor. "I feel like Park Hills has a lot to offer and has the potential to be a great community.
"There are a lot of great things going on in Park Hills right now, and renewed interest in our community, especially the things going on downtown," he noted. "I feel that we need to get back on the right track with spending and making sure we are headed in the right direction for the future. I feel I have the time, experience, and leadership capabilities to get the job done. I truly believe past behavior predicts future performance. If people will look at my record as mayor, they will see we did a lot of good things."
Clark said that he had gained a lot of experience over the years, not only from the city but also from his 33 years of work experience, which he feels makes him qualified.
"In addition to those things, I was chairman of the Mineral Area Consolidation Committee until Jan. 1, 1994, when the consolidation became official," said Clark. "I have served in several capacities with the city. I am currently the president of the St. Francois County Special Road District #2, which is within the City of Park Hills. I served three terms on the city council and nine years as mayor from 2000 to 2009."
Clark and his wife are active members of the 1st United Methodist Church of Park Hills, and Clark is active in the United Methodist Men's group. Clark serves on the board at Southeast Missouri Community Credit Union (SMCCU) in Park Hills.
When asked what some of his goals for the city would be if elected, Clark said first and foremost, his objective would be to clean up the town.
"We have a tremendous trash and weed problem that needs to be addressed," said Clark. "I am not exactly sure how we will do this, but something has to be done. We need to strive to make our community, our home, presentable.
"One thing I want to explore is something I call, 'Weeds to Wildflowers,'" he said. "It's an idea where we take areas around town that are difficult to maintain and transform them into wildflower gardens instead of weeds. I have seen and read articles about communities that are doing this, and it not only provides a home for wildlife, it also makes an area that was once difficult to maintain easier to care for.
"One thing I think is important for any community is to have people remember us in a positive way when they pass through our town," said Clark. "We should strive to be remembered as a clean, neat, well-kept community."
Clark said another of his priorities would be the town's infrastructure.
"When I was mayor in the early 2000s, we developed a plan which generated funding to address our infrastructure needs," he said. "Somewhere in the last several years, that plan has fallen away, while our streets, sidewalks, and storm drains continue to crumble. We have got to get back on track with the plan we developed in 2002 and even make improvements to it.
"The minor spending we are doing today in this area is not even a drop in the bucket of the amount we spent during my previous time as mayor, nor is it adequate enough to address the major infrastructure problems we have," Clark explained. "Added debt since then has taken that money from where it is really needed. If elected, I would work to reinstate that money just as soon as possible."
Clark mentioned that city officials have been talking for several years about a need to replace the swimming pool in Columbia Park.
"My approach would be to form a citizens group to spearhead this project and get the ball rolling," he said on efforts to replace the pool. "It's going to take money, and we need to get the community involved to help guide us where we need to go. With that said, I also want to hold town hall neighborhood meetings across the city to discuss things like the pool and other issues and concerns that residents may have. Not to be a gripe session, but one where people come together to share their ideas and offer solutions to problems. We held a few of these before, and I felt they were a very effective way to communicate directly with the residents. It's a great way to get to know people, your neighbors and share ideas.
"The only way we are going to make improvements is if we get our citizens involved and keep them informed about what is going on in their neighborhoods, he added.
Clark said another area that must be addressed is derelict housing.
"We have got to find a way to partner these run-down properties and their owners with developers and builders who will build nice, suitable, single-family owner-occupied homes," he said. "Currently, in Park Hills, we have about a 50% rate of homeownership.
"Statistics show that is not a healthy number for community stability. We need to address this, and I believe we can gain some ground by promoting single-family homes. There is money available through Community Development Block Grants that can be applied for to help with the cost of cleaning up these properties. We did that back in the early 2000s, and we applied for and received nearly $100,000. The good news about these grants is that our participation can be "in-kind," meaning our contribution could be using city workers to do the work, instead of a dollar-for-dollar type grant."
Clark said if elected, he would work hard to see the city accomplish things that need to be done.
"I will involve the city council and community to get input and develop a plan to move us forward," said Clark. "I see and read a lot on social media about the 'good ole days' in all the old towns.
"I want to make it a goal that we create those 'good ole days' again and start making our community what it was intended to be. I am not perfect, I'll be the first to admit it, and I have made my share of mistakes, but if elected, I will give it my best."
Eugene "Fritz" Fritsche, 63, is married and has seven adult children.
Fritsche graduated from North County High School in 1975 before attending trade school in Bonne Terre and Mineral Area College, where he said he took nearly every evening class offered.
He worked at Reynolds Leather from 1977-78 and then moved on to Flat River Glass, working in the mold shop from 1978-2010.
Fritsche has been a member of the Desloge United Methodist Church for 35 years. He is a member of the Downtown Park Hills Association, as well as the Foothills Car Club, and the Landlord Association.
Regarding his motivation for seeking election, Fritsche said he sees the need for innovative thinking in the city's leadership.
"We have new problems on the horizon," he explained. "People who govern from behind a desk or read reports to make decisions are not in our best interest.
"I am a lead-from-the-forefront person; get involved," said Fritsche. "In the last four years, I have purchased five buildings in the downtown district, helped start two new businesses, expand two more businesses and create a Missouri Historic Site at the old Howlett's Station on Main Street."
Fritsche noted his business experience, which he has acquired over several years.
"I have run a successful rental business in a very difficult climate," he explained. "We had a 5-star rating for our bed and breakfast, which means we are very aware of details. I know my way very well around a dollar."
Fritsche said his goal, if elected as mayor, would be to run the city with a balanced budget.
He said other objectives include doing something to address the condemned and abandoned homes within the city. He would like to get FEMA properties back on the tax rolls and out of the city maintenance. He also would like to grow the city water customer base.
Fritsche went on to explain that he was never for the Fairgrounds Project but understands that the city now owns it. He explained that he would try to find a way to prevent current city businesses from moving out on the highway through incentives.
Further, Fritsche said he wants to help landlords who are tired of people trashing homes. He added that he wants the city to keep the promises made during the consolidation that were never kept.
Larry LaChance, 57, has been married for 31 years to his wife, Jodi, originally from Monroe, Michigan. Together, the pair has three adult daughters, Rebecca, Amanda, Melissa, and two grandchildren, Leo and Louella.
LaChance graduated from Central High School in 1981 before attending Mineral Area College and the Community College of the Air Force. He retired from the U.S. Air Force as a Master Sergeant after 24 years of service.
He has owned LaChance Heating and Cooling and LaChance Properties since 2006. LaChance is a lifetime member at large of the VFW and a member of the 67 Gun Club near Doe Run.
In terms of his motivation for seeking election as mayor, LaChance said he wants to guide the city toward progress.
"I have been on the Park Hills City Council for the past six years and have worked with two mayors," he explained. "I have seen things I liked and things I disliked from our past mayors. I just feel the city needs to work on building a better place to live and shop.
"I know that the mayor has no voting powers, but the mayor can guide the city council in a direction that brings a positive change to the city."
Regarding what qualifies him to serve as mayor, LaChance mentioned his current service as a city councilman for Ward 2 and mayor pro-tem.
"I am the only candidate that knows the current issues facing the city right now and knows the current people working with the city to help us grow with businesses, jobs, and better housing," he said. "I have served as the mayor pro-tem for the past two years, stepping in when the mayor was out of the area or not available.
"I have spent years in leadership roles in the military and the private sector and served as a board member for a local non-profit organization for over ten years," he added.
Some of LaChance's goals and objectives if elected as mayor include safety and infrastructure improvements.
"We need to work on the city's infrastructure that has taken a back seat for years," he said. "We have a water and sewer system that has had no major upgrading or maintenance in years. The rule of the past has been to only repair it if it breaks; it's breaking a lot and costing the city a lot. Most of the problems could have been prevented with just ongoing maintenance.
"In the past two years, we have seen some improvements in that area, and I want to see more," he explained. "We need to start a line replacement project to upgrade water and sewer lines city-wide to meet the growing demand."
LaChance went on to mention other infrastructure issues that he feels need to be addressed.
"I think we have some of the worst sidewalks in the area, and we need to start fixing that," he said. "In parts of the city, we have sidewalks that were built 50 plus years ago and have broken up so bad that residents have to mow the grass growing up in them. We have busy streets that have no sidewalks at all, and people have to walk in the street and hope not to get struck by a vehicle. We need to start a sidewalk project to provide the residents of Park Hills a safe way of walking in our neighborhoods.
"We need to get back to repaving the streets of the city that need it and have a system where the worst streets are repaved first, and streets ranked according to condition," LaChance added.
LaChance also expressed a need to support the police department and promote public safety.
"The city passed a sales tax increase last year to help our police force modernize and provide better protection to the residents and businesses of our city," he explained. "I want to ensure this is happening and our police have all the tools and the most up-to-date training they can get.
"We also have a high number of houses that are falling down, and the property owners don't even live in this area," noted LaChance. "I want to contact these property owners and see how we can get these properties repaired, demolished, or into the hands of local builders that can build new homes.
"These properties are lowering the value of homes around them and, in some cases, becoming places to buy drugs," he said. "Residents have spoken up about these houses for years, and I think it is time to talk to the owners and, if all else fails, start the legal actions needed to have the houses removed.
"People looking to move here and businesses looking to open all want a city with good water, streets, sidewalks, nice housing, and a low crime rate," LaChance summarized. "I want to work to ensure we have those things."
Bobby Radford is a reporter for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org