Candidates In Crowded Race For County Commissioner Seats

Judy Kramer
County Reporter
Missouri is one of five states holding statewide primaries on August 4 this year, and two positions that will be on the ballot in Benton County are County Commissioners for the Southern and Northern Districts. These associate commissioners are always elected in the same years as presidential elections. The Presiding County Commissioner is elected in between presidential elections. That way, there is an experienced Presiding Commissioner already onboard to help new associate commissioners with job orientation for their first two years.
Presiding County Commissioner Steve Daleske described the responsibilities of these associate commissioners as overseers of road districts, plus many, many more duties. He said that they each represent one-half of the county residents and take them into consideration when putting together budgets, and making decisions. All three commissioners each sit on separate boards in a tri-county area, and handle day-to-day projects including the CARES Act funding, progress of the jail, and how to enact state mandates, and decide if the mandates should be made stricter. The commissioners meet in work sessions two or three times a week, all with computers in front of them.
“I believe that county commissioners are busier now than they have been in the past with everything that is going on,” said Presiding Commissioner Daleske.
Running for elected office as an associate commissioner is serious business and there are five men who want to help serve their community by sitting in one of the two positions.
The lone candidate for County Commissioner Northern District is Republican Scott Harms. He was born and raised in Cole Camp where he spent eight years in the Lutheran School, and graduated from Cole Camp High School. Then he worked at Mora Lumber, just north of Cole Camp, for 13 years, followed by a job with the County District in Sedalia. He has been at his present job as North District Foreman, for the Benton County Commission, for 15 years, making him a veteran at taking care of county roads.
“I will be looking at roads and prioritizing maintenance that needs to be done with the money that we have,” said Harms.
Harms has been a Cole Camp Jaycee from the time he was 18 years old until 40, and is now a senator in the life organization. He served on the Cole Camp School Board, was on the Pool Board, and has been on the State Fair Board for 20 years. He is active in the Holy Cross Lutheran Church.
Three Republicans and One Democrat are running for the County Commissioner South District position. 
Republican David Malecki has served as the incumbent Southside Commissioner since April 2019 when he was appointed by Governor Mike Parson. His family has lived in Benton County since 1955, and he lives on the family farm on Hwy AA in South Benton County. He graduated from Warsaw High School in 1967 and after two years in the Army, completed his BS degree in Political Science at Central Missouri State University. He then spent three years as a Missouri State Probation and Parole Officer before earning a Master’s degree at UMKC in 1977. He worked for the City of Kansas City in the City Manager’s Budget Office, and then transferred to the Aviation Department at Richards-Gebaur Airport, ultimately retiring from the City in 2003. He worked three years in environmental remediation and two years as a Gate Agency/Payroll Officer for Midwest Airlines at KCI, finally retiring for good in 2008. He is also a retired First Sergeant with 28 years in the Missouri Army National Guard.
When Malecki stepped into the Southside Commissioner position, he faced an uphill battle to provide road and bridge maintenance with a very limited budget. Through reducing expenditures and selling some unneeded equipment, he was able to close-out 2019 with a balanced budget. After assisting in the preparation of the 2020 County Budget, he was able to submit a balanced budget with $500,000 of capital improvement funds available in addition to $700,000 of Road and Bridge funds. He established priorities, overlaid Poor Boy Road, then sold an unused truck loader and was able to buy a new Weiler Paving Machine. Then, his crew was able to overlay 3.1 miles of Lost Valley Road, and were able to complete 0.8 miles of Hilty Avenue and do some needed repairs to the Te-Ki-Ki Road off Hwy M. In addition, gravel roads were graded and repaired, and other work was done such as mowing the 200 miles of south county roads.
For the 2021 Fiscal year, Malecki plans to complete overlay work on Hilty and the most damaged portions of Balke Road. He said that crews will continue to improve the gravel roads and do bridge repairs as mandated by MoDOT. Crews will try to do a better cycle of road mowing, conduct snow removal operations and emergency repairs as required. He said that at some point in the near future, additional funds need to be made available for the Commission to keep up with maintenance requirements in South Benton County.
Republican Rodney Johnson is also running for County Commissioner, Southern District. He is a 4th or 5th generation owner of his cattle farm in South Benton County where he raises Red and Black Herefords in a cow and calves operation, with the help of his sons. He said that President James Buchanan signed the form granting his family the farm in the 1800s. He has also been actively involved in the Farm Bureau for a long time and is president of the organization. He said he has helped raise funds for the Farm Bureau by selling hamburgers during the Wine Stroll, and at Orscheln Farm & Home, and has made meetings more informative by inviting Farm Bureau agent, Adam Howe to speak to the membership. He is involved in the Cattlemen’s Association, and has lobbied the Legislature in Jefferson City regarding eminent domain. He also served two terms with the University of Missouri Extension Council Board. 
Johnson says that he cares about this community, his family, the farm he works, and the people he works for. He wants to see the community grow, but keep its small town charm, as well as focus on maintaining and improving our infrastructure. He has leadership experience and the ability to get people to work together. An ad in the Benton County Enterprise described the following characteristics of being a cowboy: living each day with courage; taking pride in your work; always finish what you start; do what has to be done; be tough, but fair; when you make a promise, keep it; ride for the brand; talk less and say more; remember that some things aren’t for sale and know where to draw the line. Then, the ad stated that Johnson is a true cowboy who embraces these principles, is honest and will tell it like it is. 
Republican Larry Berry is running for County Commissioner, Southside District. He is retired from his commercial contracting business of 41 years that he started in Jefferson City in 1965 where he was the sole owner and manager. After he started his own construction company he had experience in the construction industry building custom homes, businesses, government buildings, and restaurants, and he remodeled existing structures, repaired and expanded streets, roads, and parking lots. He handled payroll responsibilities and balanced complicated budgets that dealt with federal, county and city governments.
One of Berry’s goals is to bring more businesses and industry to Benton County, offering better pay and benefits with good retirement plans. Another goal is to improve the condition of the miles of county gravel roads by raising the crown to improve water drainage, and work on the ditches to keep water off the roadways.
“I want to improve everything in the county, in all directions,” said Berry. “I want more job opportunities, better roads, better schools, and want to back law enforcement with better equipment. I want to motivate people to climb the ladder and make progress in our county.  Residents tell me they want more businesses and restaurants. If we have more businesses, we have a bigger tax base, providing more money for the county. And those working in the businesses will spend their money here. I want the best for Benton County. I will work for the people of the county and want all county residents to be involved in our progress.”
Larry and Peggy Crabtree-Berry have lived on a farm outside of Warsaw, Missouri, since 2006, but Peggy’s family has lived in Benton County since 1832. Larry Berry is an ordained deacon in the Baptist Church.
Democrat John Spry has owned and operated turkey farms in Edwards for 30 years. He also recently retired as Fire Chief, Deer Creek Fire Protection District, where he served for 32 years. While Fire Chief, Spry coordinated community events with other organizations in Edwards such as the Fall Festival, pot luck dinners, and Trick or Treat events. 
Spry also has eight years experience as a Southside Commissioner, serving from January 1997 until 2004. During that time the Benton County Commission got 911, state and local off-ramps for the Walmart store, and gave tax incentives to bring Regal Beloit Electric Motors Group to Lincoln, resulting in about 150 jobs. He would like to do more similar things if elected. He says that he would like road and bridge improvements, more jobs and an improved economy, but that he would have to wait to see what kind of budget he and other commissioners will have to work with.
“A lot of people say that we need to grow, but we actually have been growing, just a little at a time,” said Spry. 
Spry has not been as actively campaigning during the summer as he will in the fall. Some of the campaigning events that he was scheduled to take part in such as a Pie Auction in Fristoe, and Forbes Meet the Candidates Night, were cancelled because of COVID-19 risks. He said that he will be putting out more signs in the coming months.