Two women are running for seats on the Riley County Commission.
Fanny Fang and Kathryn Focke were both unopposed in Tuesday’s primary election. The two democratic candidates are hoping to flip the District 2 and 3 seats respectively in their favor. Fang became a vocal critic of the commission earlier this year since incumbent District 2 commissioner Marvin Rodriguez made some controversial comments regarding Chinese people and the coronavirus.
“Riley County residents have been forced to choose between education or risking the lives of their children to go to school or between the business, their livelihoods or their own life,” she said. “I want to say this has been caused by COVID but the truth is, for many, it has always been this way.”
Fang, a daughter of Chinese immigrants, says Riley County is not going back to normal after the pandemic because normal wasn’t working. She wants more voices in the county to be heard and acknowledged, especially for rural residents.
“Rural Riley County has been pleading for an ambulance station for years and have been rejected and been denied because our county government favors profit over people,” she said.
Fang favors a new ambulance station to be built in the northern part of the county, not only to reduce response times, but also because of concerns amid the ongoing pandemic. She wants to see the county use CARES Act funds the county is receiving to build a station in the northern part of the county.
Every time commissioners are addressed with items, she says it always comes down to numbers, which she says she understands as a business owner herself. Fang owns and operates the Asian Market in Manhattan.
“Ultimately it is the duty of government officials to take care of their people, and they have not done that,” she said.
Also a businesswoman herself, Focke says she began attending meetings earlier this year and has been alarmed with the response the current commission has given to the health crisis.
“I’ve been really concerned because I don’t think the current commission are understanding of what’s going on in the community and in the county. They lack understanding, honesty and transparency in their dealings,” she said. “It’s not what they do necessarily, but how they do it,” she said.
Both Focke and Fang are advocates for shaking up when the commission traditionally meets. Currently that is on Mondays and Thursdays at 8:30 a.m.
“What I would like to do is change the meeting times. Push for some hours that would be more convenient. It’s really open,” she said.
Focke prefers a possible evening meeting schedule, similar to that of the Manhattan City Commission. The current structure favors department heads who attend the meetings as part of their regularly structured work schedule. She also says meetings could be tightened up and be more accessible to the public.
Fang also prefers a change to the weekly schedule to create more engagement.
“It can’t just be emails and phone calls. We need to engage them in many different ways and provide adequate time for our residents to understand what major decisions are coming up,” she said.
Both Fang and Focke say the commission has lacked communication and transparency with the public, and that it was only heightened by the COVID-19 pandemic. The county only began streaming public meetings via a YouTube channel recently due to limits on public attendance of public meetings. Some candidates in the primary, including on the Republican side have suggested that might never have happened if not for COVID-19 forcing them to do so, in the name of transparency.
While results aren’t finalized until all mail ballots are counted, Fang will be opposed by the winner of the District 2 Republican primary. As of election eight, that would be Greg McKinley of Riley. Focke will likely be opposed by former Manhattan City Commissioner John Matta in District 3. Matta held a greater than 300 vote advantage over incumbent Ron Wells Tuesday night.
KMAN’s Derek Simmons and Brandon Peoples interviewed the two candidates prior to the Aug. 4 primary. They are shared below.