A few words of wisdom from former Iola Mayor John McRae struck a chord with Nich Lohman.
McRae was speaking about the often thankless job of serving as an elected city official.
“He figured 95% of the time, what you do is a no-brainer,” Lohman noted. “Very rarely will you do anything controversial. But that’s how they’ll remember you.”
So why pursue a thankless, non-paying job that likely will win a person only enemies and few friends?
“Good question,” Lohman joked, before striking a serious tone. “I really think everybody there puts in a lot of work and effort to do the job to the best of their abilities.”
Lohman has decided to toss his hat in the political realm, as a candidate in Iola’s Third Ward, which covers the southwest quadrant of town. Voters will pick between him and Gene Myrick in Tuesday’s general election.
Lohman, pharmacy director at Allen County Regional Hospital and director of clinical operations at the Iola Pharmacy, sees several “topics to address” for Iola’s city leaders.
One of the tops is housing.
Lohman moved to Iola 16 years ago, he became part of the Homes for Iola Project, a group dedicated to sparking new housing development in town.
“We built a couple of homes, but a lot of roadblocks got in the way,” he said. “Then, right after the 2008 market crash, banks became super hesitant to loan any money.”
Subsequently, home prices have been depressed in Iola for more than decade, he notes.
But now, as housing prices have spiked nationwide, and in Allen County for that matter, it’s time for Iola to put its best foot forward for developers and home-buyers.
“A city council can develop incentives for people to build,” Lohman said, lauding efforts by Councilman Carl Slaugh to develop a committee to tackle economic development. “That’s a good thing.”
(Coincidentally, Lohman’s opponent, Myrick, is on the committee.)
“What can the city do?” Lohman asked rhetorically. “Can we be a city of growth, or do we want to promote sustainability.”
Ideally, the answer is a bit of both, he said.
Lohman has served on other committees of various capacities, the boards of directors for the Allen County Historical Society and the Southeast Kansas Multi-County Health Department.
In both capacities, keeping an eye on the bottom line is paramount.
In fact, Lohman has been tasked with setting the Historical Society’s budget, and works extensively with hospitals in Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska.
“In a big hospital, you’re focused on providing the highest-care possible, no matter what,” Lohman noted. “It’s also true, in a sense, in a medium-sized hospital. But when you get down to critical access hospitals (like ACRH), they operate on a knife’s edge of profitability. You have to be very efficient.”
The focus on efficiency is equally important on city council, Lohman noted.
“”In a pharmacy, drugs are expensive, and we maintain a very tight control on what you’re spending vs. what you’re getting in. You have to build up funds, and control costs.”
LOHMAN admits he will encounter discussions on which he doesn’t know the answers, recalling a quote he once heard, and isn’t afraid to use: “‘I don’t know. You’re gonna have to talk to someone smarter than I am.”
“It’s OK to not know, but to be willing to find answers,” he said.
Lohman spoke briefly on the pending divorce of ambulance services with Iola and Allen County. The city’s contract to provide countywide service will expire Dec. 31, with the county going with a private company to provide the countywide EMS. In response, the city will operate a city-only service.
He noted a similar set-up was in place from 2009 through 2013.
“Amongst the hospital staff, the comment I heard most frequently was, ‘If I ever need an ambulance, call the city directly,’” Lohman said.
He’s uncertain if a similar reaction will occur this time.
“I always worry about finances,” Lohman. “You have two programs, two administrations. It seems like inherently it will be less efficient.”
Two debates in and out of Allen County also caught Lohman’s eye — utility shut-off policies, and law enforcement oversight.
Lohman noted both the Iola police and Allen County sheriff’s departments are supported by the community, but occasionally field complaints about either department.
But when complaints are voiced, the investigations typically are conducted by the other department. With multiple officers having worked in both departments, he worries about conflicts of interest.
A community council might be a better solution, even though such such a measure likely would be unpopular within law enforcement, Lohman acknowledged.
“But on the whole, it doesn’t sound like a bad idea having police departments accountable to the community.”
He also wonders if Iola’s utility shut-off policies offer “a good balance of a compassionate application of rules. At some point, we have to cut people off, but where’s that line?”
WITH FOUR of his seven children still at home, Lohman is well familiar with family commitments, from ball games and concerts, to laundry nights and days for cleaning.
But as his children have grown older, it freed up enough time for Lohman to pursue a Council seat. As an aside, Lohman’s wife, Robin, is a candidate for the Iola-USD 258 Board of Education.
“Really, it would have been perfect for me to run when I was 18,” he joked, “because it knew everything when I was 18. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten a much healthier appreciation of the vast amount of stuff I don’t know. At this trajectory, by the time I have lots of time on my hands, I won’t know anything. Right now, I’m in a happy middle spot.”