Branson U Debate 2023.jpg

Branson Mayor Larry Milton and former Mayor Karen Best debated multiple issues at the Branson U mayoral debate.

Two of Branson’s three mayoral candidates faced off at a debate on Saturday, March 4, hosted by Branson U and moderated by Joshua Heston of State of the Ozarks.

In the event hosted at the Hughes Brothers Theatre, former Branson mayor Karen Best said she would remove current Branson City Administrator Cathy Stepp if she was elected to the position.

“I stand pretty firm on this one,” Best said. “I don’t believe that the process was followed for her to have the job. One of the things we have is we have codes and we have laws. Those codes and laws should be followed. I don’t believe the process was allowed to be followed to the fullest extent. 

“I agree with three of the aldermen when they voted that this person is not the right person for the job. She may be wonderful, she may be great, but in my opinion she does not possess the qualities she needs to run the city. So I would not support her continuing.”

Best did not say what qualities she was referring to Stepp did not possess.

Current Branson Mayor Larry Milton took exception to Best’s words.

“For the record, the facts are, the city did follow every single code, every single law, when we voted for Cathy Stepp to be our city administrator,” Milton said. “Those that have had to interact with Cathy share with me often, she may be one of Branson’s finest city administrators. The caliber she brings to city hall is going to assist us helping Branson into the 21st Century where Branson deserves to be. I could not be more proud to work alongside Cathy Stepp.”

Branson City Code Section 2-136, subsection a, describes the appointment of a city administrator and states: The city administrator shall be appointed by the mayor and board for an indefinite term. He shall be at least 25 years of age, should have a master’s degree in business or public administration or a related field, and shall be chosen solely on the basis of his executive and administrative qualifications, with special reference to his actual experience in, or his knowledge of, accepted practice in respect to the duties of the office set forth in this section. Appointment of any city administrator shall be based solely upon qualifications, without regard to his political beliefs or affiliations. At the time of his appointment, he need not be a resident of the city, but during his tenure in office he shall reside in the city and devote his full-time to the performance of the duties of his office.

The requirements in this section of city code is the applicant be 25 years of age, and the hiring be made solely on the basis of “executive and administrative qualifications” with attention paid to experience related to the duties of the office. The board is also required to choose the candidate regardless of the candidate’s political beliefs or affiliations with political or social organizations. A Master’s degree in “business or public administration or a related field” is a recommendation of city code, but not a requirement. 

Both candidates were asked a question related to the Stepp question, specifically pointed at Milton, asking if he would appoint another former chief of police or other member of law enforcement into a city hall management position. (Former Branson City Administrator Stan Dobbins was a former Branson Police Chief.)

“Sounds like a loaded question,” Milton said. “I don’t know their position should have a bearing on appointing them or not, I think it’s the qualifications of the individual to be reviewed and critiqued. If the police chief fits the role of a need within the city, I absolutely would do it.”

Best said she wished she had more context for the question.

“If that person is the most qualified person for a position, absolutely they should be considered for what that position is,” Best said. “I don’t know if they’re asking if you would replace the current chief of police? I wouldn’t replace the current chief of police. Chief Schmitt does a great job.”

Best noted when the last police chief was hired, Schmitt had just been promoted from Sergeant to Assistant Police Chief, and he didn’t have some of the qualifications he has now obtained through training and education.

Both candidates were asked through two different questions to being in the mayoral seat. Best was asked what she brings to the office which is not currently there.

“We’re both real estate agents, so that’s something we have in common, however I would say one of the differences of the two of us is that I’m actively working to bring new businesses to town. One of those things is workforce housing. We have a lot of buildings that have served their use, for lack of better things to say, so repurposing those buildings has been very helpful. I don’t know if you’ve seen The Penleigh, which is the old Howard Johnson’s, the group that bought that did a fantastic job remodeling that into housing affordable to our workers in town.”

“I also bring a little more experience. I was in office for two terms, our current mayor has been in there for one term. And the first term is really a learning experience. So I’ve said it before, but Mayor Milton is getting to reap a lot of the success that our administration started.”

Milton was asked if he’s fulfilled his campaign promises.

“Let’s think about my campaign promises,” Milton said. “The first one has not been fulfilled, and that was to address the panhandling and the homeless. That issue has so many tentacles not only affecting Branson but nationwide. We’ve had a few study sessions involving the community and social services in our area. 

“Another campaign promise was to be the voice of the people and change the culture of city hall. I believe I can check that box and be very proud of that. Another campaign promise was that I was committed to removing the mask mandate and I’m proud to say within minutes of me being sworn in as mayor, it was the first agenda item at the meeting, and I’m very proud of that.”

The third candidate for the office, Branson Alderman Chuck Rodriguez, was unable to attend the event because of illness.

(1) comment

Bill Stephenson

Honestly, I wouldn't vote for either of them.

Karen Best was awful as Mayor and she would be again if elected.

And Larry Milton brags about “removing the mask mandate” but ignores that 16,064 local residents have been infected and 252 have been killed by it and he takes no responsibility for that at all but many of those deaths are directly related that ignorance.

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