Republican incumbent Randall "Randy" Kleindienst is facing off against Democrat Donnie Horstman in the race for the Eastern District County Commissioner seat. The general election takes place Nov. 3.
First elected in 2012, Randy Kleindienst has now served two terms as the Callaway County Eastern District commissioner. Kleindienst graduated from South Callaway High School in 1980. He and his wife of 37 years Christine have three children. He worked for 20 years as a real estate agent, and he has also been involved with 54 Country, owned by one of his sons. He began working at Callaway County's road and bridge department 32 years ago, staying with the department until he was elected commissioner.
Why did you decide to run for reelection?
It's an honor to be able to work for the citizens of Callaway County. I take it very seriously. Not day goes by I don't wake up looking for opportunities to improve Callaway County for the people who live there. I have a lot of experience and a lot of knowledge, and I think I'm doing a good job. Also, we've got some major projects going on, and I'd hate to change horses in mid-stream.
How does your experience prepare you for being an effective Callaway County commissioner?
I think my years of experience and ability to relate to residents of our county is a vital aspect I have. It's something I've done for the better part of my life.
The way my folks raised me, it's called a Christian home with love and respect and the ability to work and get things done. It's something my parents and grandparents taught me as a young man. I've tried to expand on that. My experience at the county stems from (working) at the road and bridge department 24 years. I started out as the lowly brush cutter. That brush cutter didn't have air conditioning; we had a lot of roads to mow and we got 'er done. I worked pretty much every job in the department.
When you do anything for the county you have to have a certain amount of ability to speak to the public. Even if we don't agree I can talk to someone and get things done. I return every call, I talk to people, I go out and see what the project needs.
What makes you a better choice than your opponent?
I don't like to talk about my opponent. My strong points are what they are. I have what I'd like to say is quite a wealth of knowledge from my experience. My opponent does not have that type of experience with the county. All I can say is I deal respectfully and I deal promptly, and I do it with a level of experience and knowledge. I believe I understand the needs of our county government and of our residents. I like to say I have the three R's I'm reliable, I'm responsive and I'm ready.
How do you intend to keep an open line of communication with your constituents?
There's always walk-ins. I'm there almost every day; I'm as full time as anybody you know. We're five days a week at the office and 24/7 as commissioners because that's just the nature of the job. I answer every phone call I can. And I get a lot of messages on Facebook with people asking me questions. You can't please everybody at all the the time but at least people know when they contact Randall Kleindienst they get a response. It's my duty and my honor to serve people that way.
What are your goals?
We've just about got the majority of the architectural drawings done for the new jail and new justice center we're doing. We have so many other responsibilities, that's just another thing on our plate. We have a lot of road issues. We're constantly trying to find qualified employees, and we were just able to up our starting wages at our road and bridge department. We felt it was the right thing to do.
We're in process of doing more work along the roadways. There are many places where state highway turns into gravel road, and that lip can get into pretty bad shape. Those intersections aren't totally the county's responsibility, but we're taking the bull by the horns. We're targeting some in the Millersburg area and along Mokane Road where we're putting asphalt apron back from the black top so people have good footing to take off when they leave.
About six years ago we started chip-seal program. That helped us get our black-top road from around 40 percent of roads in good shape to 75-80 percent of roads in good shape, just because of the chip-seal program.
As for the Use Tax money, we've helped the sheriff by upping the department's salaries to be more competitive so we can have road deputies and increase their presence in our county.
Four years go by fast when you're busy like this.
What should Callaway County's funding priorities be?
That'll depend on which departments you talk to. I feel like our employees are our greatest asset. You can't expect the best highways to be built if you can't pay your help to do it.
Then we have priorities such as the the School Resource Officers for our schools and providing more funding for the sheriff for deputies. You can have all the deputies in the world but if you don't have 911 operators being paid, then what have you got? That takes a lot of funding. Those are grueling jobs. They need to be compensated properly. The majority of our courthouse staff is barely over minimum wage. As minimum wage continues to grow, we have to keep pace with that. We're encouraging our other elects to do what they can do. They do a fabulous job with their budgets.
I also want to continue to make sure our overall (spending) is frugal but we're not hoarding The pandemic is indicator sometimes things can happen beyond our control and, in those situations, a reserve is useful.
What's the biggest challenge currently facing Callaway County, and how would you solve it?
Once again it depends on your perspective. Some would say paying the help enough is the biggest challenge; some would say our 800 miles of roads and bridges is our biggest challenge. I think some of our challenges lie in the 911 system and our funding thereof. Due to our geographical area in Callaway County, people in Boone and Cole County can hire the people we've trained and pay them better.
Eventually, it all comes down to whether we have the money to do the projects and whether it makes sense to do it. We are where we're at with the income in the county and we have to work with it. I'm proud of the record we've had for the last eight years while I've been in office.
What changes, if any, would you make in the way the county is handling the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic?
We're doing the best we can — our health department has been doing yeoman's work out there with contact tracing. This is the first time we've ever been involved with this type of pandemic. Anyone can Monday morning quarterback how the county's handled things. I'd like to say I think Presiding Commissioner Gary Jungermann, (Western District Commissioner) Roger Fischer and myself have handled this, from the county's perspective, in a reasonable and logical manner without trying to stir panic up.
I've had two calls, I think, asking about mask ordinances. I'd challenge anyone to go out to the Williamsburg area or Portland area and Hatton area and tell all those farmers out there you have to wear a mask or you'll be fined. It's the Constitution we're talking about here, and one of the thing the Constitution's talking about is you shall not infringe. I think it's fine if you so desire to wear a mask and I think it's fine for a business to require you to wear a mask. I do not believe it's the government's job to pass those rules. We've done a lot — we've purchased sanitizing foggers, not to mention the CARES fund money we've diligently tried to distribute to those who've applied for it.
Are there problems? Of course there'll be problems; it's something we've never dealt with before.
In brief, what do you love most about Callaway County?
Callaway County has been my home for 58 years. I was born and raised here, I love the people here, and I ask for their support on Nov. 3.