Local business owner Thom Baker seeks to leave Columbia a gift when he retires. Tucked away in his equipment-lain home office, Thom Baker of...
“My biggest priority is making sure that we have a very voter-centric clerk’s office that’s going to make it easy for people to vote. Make it accessible and make it simple,” says Brianna Lennon, the Democratic candidate running for Boone County Clerk. “We have a history in Boone County of having really on-top-of-it, voter-centric elections, and that’s what I want to ensure continues to happen.”
Lennon, 32, is an election law attorney in Columbia. She served in the Missouri Secretary of State’s office, first as elections counsel and the first coordinator of the Elections Integrity Unit and then as deputy director of elections, from 2013 to 2015. During her time at the secretary of state’s office, she worked with longtime Boone County clerk Wendy Noren. Prior to that, Lennon was a Missouri assistant attorney general. This is her second run for public office; she ran unsuccessfully for Boone County Southern District Commissioner in 2016.
Lennon outlines her holistic approach to voting and election operations on her campaign website. In one blog post, she details a three-hour experience riding public transit that opened her eyes to how difficult it may be for some voters to get to the polls, even with free bus rides offered on election days. If elected, she’d like to assess the current precincts that determine polling locations for voters.
“When you’re looking holistically at operating an election, what’s going to work best for voters has to be one of the first things that you think about,” Lennon says. “One of the trends we’re seeing nationwide in elections administration is voting centers and central polling locations. Instead of having these precincts that are tied to our houses, they’re instead tied to where we are naturally, like workplaces.”
Lennon also thinks that upgrading the county’s electronic voting equipment and reinforcing cybersecurity is essential to sound election operations.
“Protecting the integrity of our elections is critical to building back trust in our government,” Lennon says on her website. “Boone County’s voting equipment is aging and needs to be replaced. We need accurate and secure machines just as much as we need honest and impartial election workers.”
Lennon says she will “be proactive in getting timely and easy-to-understand information” to voters about registering to vote, finding your polling place, and understanding who and what will appear on the ballot to make voting as simple as possible.
“We need a clerk who cares very deeply about the public and what their experience is with the office,” Lennon says. “And that’s the kind of mindset that I bring.”
Lennon received her bachelor’s degree in political science from Truman State University. She earned her juris doctorate and master’s degree in public affairs jointly from the MU School of Law and MU’s Truman School of Public Affairs.
“I’ve always been interested in serving,” says Taylor Burks, a 32-year-old U.S. Navy veteran currently serving as Boone County Clerk.
Burks was appointed county clerk by former Governor Eric Greitens in July 2017 after Wendy Noren stepped down for health reasons following 35 years in office. This is the first public office Burks has held, and he is the first Republican to serve as Boone County Clerk in the office’s nearly 200-year history.
“It certainly is sobering to step in and try to learn from what Wendy did and carry the mantle that she left behind,” Burks says. “I’m aware of that every day. Today we’re running reports that Wendy used to run. Every day that I’m in the job, I figure out another layer of what she did and how she did it.”
After his time in the Navy, the Neosho, Missouri, native was a business manager at MU Women’s and Children’s Hospital and then director of logistics and asset management for the UM System. He ran unsuccessfully for the Boone Hospital Center Board of Trustees in 2017 and planned to run again until being appointed county clerk.
Now with four elections under his belt, including the August primary that yielded an impressive 37.2 percent voter turnout, Burks and his staff are busy preparing for the November election as he also campaigns to keep his office for the next four years. If elected, his first priority will be to replace the county’s current 12-year-old electronic voting machines, which he estimates will cost around $1 million.
“Obviously, 2020 is going to be a big presidential election year. It makes more sense to [implement the new equipment] next year so that we’re not trying to do it the midst of a presidential election.”
Burks says that by increasing the efficiency of operations at the clerk’s office this past year, he’s been able to save about $250,000 toward the purchase of that equipment. As co-chair of the Missouri Association of County Clerks Cybersecurity Task Force, protecting elections from cybersecurity threats is also top of mind for Burks.
Burks feels that the experience in office he has gained over the last 15 months gives him an edge in the election, for which he is expecting 60 to 65 percent voter turnout.
“My first year as county clerk has only been successful because of the fantastic staff that we have in the clerk’s office,” Burks says, adding that bipartisanship has also helped his success. “One of the things I’ve done as county clerk is try to implement bipartisan checks within this office. Even if I wasn’t on the ballot, I want people to trust that the office that we’re running has a voice and has an opinion for people who don’t just think like me as a Republican.”
Burks has lived in Columbia since 2007. He completed his bachelor’s degree in justice systems from Truman State University, and earned a master’s degree in administrative leadership from the University of Oklahoma and a master’s in accounting from Washington University.
With the exception of four years spent in the Air Force as a JAG officer, Dan Atwill has called Columbia home since 1965. Having practiced law for more than 40 years and served as Boone County’s presiding commissioner since 2011, Atwill is asking voters to re-elect him on the basis of his experience, infrastructure projects, and economic development work.
Atwill emphasizes that, while maintaining the county’s 800 miles of road is an essential part of the job, he is focused on bringing new business to the county through tax incentives. He points to the commission’s success in using tax abatement agreements to attract Aurora Organic Dairy and American Outdoor Brands to the county.
If he secures another term, Atwill hopes to negotiate a similar Chapter 100 bond arrangement with Northwest Medical Isotopes, which plans to build a radioisotope production center in Columbia to be near the MU Research Reactor. Atwill expects the facility would create about 100 new jobs and that the newly generated tax revenue, most of which would support local schools, would outweigh the additional strain on education and infrastructure. “Plus, this [molybdenum-99, the most prominent radioisotope the business would work with] product is not currently made in the United States, so this is a big deal,” Atwill adds.
Atwill views economic development as tightly tied with other commission responsibilities, such as road maintenance. He hopes to benefit rural businesses while reducing maintenance costs by altering the material mixture used in the county’s gravel roads. He argues that access to transportation, economic opportunity, and affordable housing would decrease the county’s law enforcement needs.
Beyond economic development and transportation, a somewhat unusual county issue has claimed much of Atwill’s attention as presiding commissioner: the Central Missouri Events Center. “If there’s anything I’d like to do, it’s to solve that issue,” he says. “It’s not a legal obligation of the county, but people have come to think it is. Nothing has absorbed my time or energy in my six years more so than that property.”
While Atwill is pleased that Veterans United Home Loans is currently leasing and maintaining part of the CMEC property, he continues to search for a financially stable solution, including potential partnerships with private or public entities. Until then, he views the land, which was purchased for $2.6 million in 1999 and recently appraised at $3.3 million, as an investment in the county’s future.
Atwill is also focused on finding a sustainable solution to the financial challenges of Boone County Hospital, though he doesn’t see an easy answer ahead. “I think the best thing for the trustees to do is to look at the options that are available in more detail. Our biggest interest is seeing the tradition of excellent services is kept in place.”
Still, Atwill, who regularly meets with other Missouri county commissioners, says he is grateful that Boone County’s challenges are what they are. “Many counties are losing population and revenue, and those would be much more difficult problems than the problems we have,” he says. “How do you make a budget for declining revenue? They would love to have our problems.”
When he returned to Boone County from Honduras in 2013, Matt Cavanaugh traded building beachfront resorts for a new mission: changing the culture and financial priorities of county government. After making an unsuccessful bid for Southern District commissioner in 2016, Cavanaugh is now running for presiding commissioner on a platform of improved transparency and stewardship of county resources.
Cavanaugh points to two particular county assets — the Central Missouri Events Center, popularly known as the county fairgrounds, and Boone Hospital Center — as posterchildren of poor management by the county commission, but he stresses that he has others in mind as well. “When I say utilizing county assets to their fullest potential, I mean county revenue, land, buildings, and people,” Cavanaugh explains.
While the CMEC is currently being leased to Veterans United, Cavanaugh proposes leasing other highway-facing tracts of the 134-acre property to roadside businesses like hotels and restaurants. With the remaining property, he suggests building event infrastructure.
“You could put Roots N Blues out there,” Cavanaugh suggests. “You could do gun shows, mule shows, antique auto shows, breed-specific cattle shows. If you get 100 events a year out there, do you know what kind of revenue we’re talking about?”
Cavanaugh is less optimistic about the future of Boone Hospital Center. Acknowledging that national health care trends have put fiscal pressure on the hospital, Cavanaugh contends that the Hospital Board of Trustees is worsening the hospital’s financial woes with misguided investments, such as the $23 million Nifong Medical Plaza.
“I don’t know what the best answer is [for the hospital],” Cavanaugh admits. “It’s uncertain, and that’s the best answer I can tell you. It’s so far down the road now that anything we do is crisis management.”
Still, Cavanaugh views keeping the hospital open as one of the county’s greatest priorities. He would “put pressure” on the board of trustees via the commission’s liaison, a role currently held by presiding commissioner Dan Atwill, to seek a plan and a future for the hospital.
He argues that the hospital’s continued operation is critical for the well-being of central Missourians because state funding for MU — including MU Health — is tied to university enrollment figures, which declined by 35 percent in the two years following racially charged campus protests in 2015, although enrollment ticked back up by about 15 percent this fall.
Cavanaugh contrasts what he sees as wasteful county spending with his own business acumen.
Cavanaugh founded Magnum Oil and Gas in his native Colorado at age 21. By 24, he had more than 55 employees and was selling more than $1 million per month of natural gas. After moving to Columbia in 1990 to study economics and Japanese, he split his time between Columbia, where he bought and renovated residential properties, and Latin America, where he developed off-the-grid retreats.
“I have the qualifications, the education, and the will to do [the work of presiding commissioner],” Cavanaugh says. “I want to learn about development from the public aspect. That’s the truth of it. There’s a lot to learn here.”
I have 22 years of experience in the recorder of deeds office. Prior to being elected, I served as the lead deputy for 10 years. I currently serve as the recorders’ division director for the International Association of Government Officials, and I’m also a member of the Recorders Association of Missouri, Property Records Industry Association, and the Missouri Housing Industry Association.
10 years in banking, 18 years as a deputy recorder of deeds, four years as Recorder of Deeds.
One or two cups of coffee or tea.
I have extensive budget and financial experience and have worked hard to be an informed leader in technology and processes that impact our precious public records. I am an engaged advocate for Boone County and for all Missouri recorders with the legislature.
Boone County has been fortunate that it hasn’t been as severely impacted by economic downturns in recent years. I am, however, very concerned about the impact of tariffs on our local farmers now and in the future. The struggles that MU has experienced in the past few years are also a factor that could have a negative impact on our local economy. The entire community benefits when the university is doing well.
Breakfast with grandkids and doing yardwork or an outdoor activity, like swimming or bicycling.
I am a singer and actress in local community theatre productions.
I consider the businesses in the land title and financial industries to be my partners in serving Boone County. Listening to their needs and making their job easier where I can are essential ways that I can make land transactions better for citizens. As a small business owner, I am keenly aware of the struggles that businesses face in today’s online market. I feel that imposing local sales tax on online purchases would level the playing field for local merchants.
My husband, Gary, and I live on a small farm east of Columbia. We are part of a small family business known as Ballenger Propane Inc. We have four adult children and two grandchildren. When I’m not working, I enjoy many things, but mostly painting with watercolors and creating glass and acrylic art designs.
I worked with Walmart Stores Inc. from 1981 to 1990 and in the Boone County Recorder of Deeds office 1991 to present. In 1981, I was set to attend Moberly Area Community College in the fall, but I accepted a full-time position at Wal-Mart instead. I started out as a cashier and moved my way up to advertising coordinator for the three Columbia stores. In 1991, I was hired as a deputy recorder. I have 27 years of on-the-job experience. I have attended conferences for IACREAT-IGO, which is a professional organization for government officials, and the Recorders Association of Missouri for additional education.
I have more than 27 years of on-the-job experience, skills, knowledge, and a good work ethic to lead the office. I have built relationships with many businesses that frequent the recorder’s office. I was trained and mentored by Sam Walton and Bettie Johnson, two great leaders that knew how to motivate and inspire you to be the best you can be at everything you do. I want to lead just like them. I believe asking the voters to elect me to be their recorder of deeds means being a good steward of their tax dollars. I will commit to be in the office full-time to fulfill the duties of the position. This includes being there for the staff, working alongside them, and prioritizing the responsibilities the office demands. I also have a great rapport with the other county officials, and it’s essential that we all work together for the betterment of the county.
I work in Columbia but live in the country, so unless something is going on that I’d like to attend, my Saturday is usually spent at home enjoying time with my family and painting.
I knew Sam Walton personally, and took his dad, Grandpa Tom, around the store to fill his shopping list.
Depends on my day, but usually around two.
Our county website is a big source of information that is provided for the public and utilized daily by many businesses. I will keep current with technology and legislation to implement changes needed to run the recorder’s office, which helps the consumer. The recorder’s office also correlates with the assessor and the collector, working together as a three-pronged government.
An entrepreneur and small business owner, my career includes publishing and consulting with hundreds of Missouri small business owners. In Congress, I’m committed to eliminating red tape and helping small businesses start up and grow. Entrepreneurs and small business owners are some of the best job creators — I know because I am one!
I have started and sold three successful magazine businesses in Columbia, Jefferson City, and Sedalia.
How can I put this? El Maguey. Twice a week. Except when I have it three times.
I only have one pot of coffee each morning.
A great Saturday includes getting to the Columbia Farmers Market. I really enjoy cooking, and using locally grown foods adds to it. On a Saturday afternoon, my kids and I enjoy downtown Columbia. If it’s a football Saturday, nothing beats Mizzou on Faurot Field!
Congress is in chaos, and the only way to change it is to change the people we send there. This current congress remains apathetic to the chaos, or worse yet, seems to support it. As our next congresswoman, I’m committed to getting our government back on track to serve the people again, as it was intended. It’s the primary reason I’m running. I believe we need what I call house-cleaning reforms: campaign finance reform, lobbying reform, and redistricting reform. Concurrently, we need to fix the foundation for families by giving them living wages, affordable and accessible healthcare, and quality education for our children. In Congress, I will be a voice for working families, not the mega-wealthy. Medicare needs to be protected and expanded.
More people need to be making more money. That means we set a low interest rate for student loans and make job training accessible to more people. We need to tamp down the cost of healthcare and prescription drugs so families have more money in their pocket and access to care. And we need to stop piling on to the national debt.
For me, fighting for business is personal. I know first-hand how it feels to start your own small business — it can be scary. You lose your safety net. There’s not a huge office full of people and an accounting department and an HR department and someone on site to do your taxes and manage your health care options. You’re on your own. Small business owners are some of the most courageous people I know. Many of these folks invest everything in their ideas. Creating and growing a small business should be an opportunity for anyone who wants to do the work.
Renee Hoagenson will be running against incumbent Vicky Hartzler. Hartzler’s responses were not available by press time.
I was born in California, and moved to Missouri in 1986. I reside in Ashland with my husband, Steve. I serve on the following committees in the Missouri House of Representatives: budget; the subcommittee on appropriations for public safety, corrections, transportation, and revenue; the Joint Committee on Child Abuse and Neglect; pensions; the Special Committee on Employment Security; and the Special Committee to Improve the Care and Well-being of Young People.
I worked full-time while earning an undergraduate degree in business administration from Columbia College and a master’s degree in public affairs with a specialization in nonprofit management and public management from the Truman School of Public Affairs at MU. I currently serve as treasurer of Heritage Baptist Church in Columbia, where my husband and I participate in various community outreach efforts.
I fully support President Trump’s tax reform and job creation package, which has cut taxes for individuals and businesses. The corporate tax rate in America was among the highest in the world and President Trump has lowered it from 35 percent to 21 percent. As a Missourian who personally experienced a factory layoff where my job and hundreds more went to the country of Mexico, I believe it’s imperative that we encourage American businesses through lower taxes and fewer burdensome regulations to keep and bring jobs back in the United States.
During campaign season, Saturdays usually include going door-to-door, attending events and meet-and-greets, and answering constituent calls. I’m sure Shakespeare’s is always somewhere in the equation.
I’m a hard worker who is committed to serving full-time as a state representative for the people of Missouri’s 50th District. When the legislature is not in session, I’m likely to be found in one of the district’s four counties listening to concerns and working together towards solutions. In addition to my education, I have a well-rounded background having worked in all three sectors of the workforce (public, private, and nonprofit) and have invested many hours in the Mid- Missouri community through volunteer efforts.
Zero to two followed by sugar-free caffeinated soft drinks late into the evening.
I really love dogs. I often carry dog biscuits in my pocket.
Our businesses are the economic engines of our community. I supported efforts this past legislative session that will help businesses (including agricultural businesses) and the families who founded them. I will continue to prioritize workforce development and support collaborative efforts with job creators in our community.
Sara Walsh will be running against Michela Skelton. Skelton’s responses were not available by press time.