Chris Gard was going door-to-door campaigning for his election as Ward 2 alderman when an older gentleman said he’s watched the city change so much over the years he thought “the city has outgrown its city government.”
“I’ve never heard anyone put it as succinctly as that,” Gard said. “I think we need a better plan for the next 10 than we’ve had for the last 10. When you start talking to folks, you get the feeling that we’ve been flying by the seat of our pants. We need to take a step back and figure out what we want to be when we grow up.”
It’s been a decade since Gard and his family moved to , and after watching rooftops spring up one by one to accommodate a 300-percent growth in residents, he said he believes the City needs an improved business development plan, parks built much more quickly than they have been over the past 10 years and a look at builders’ capital before they start a subdivision to ensure they have the funds to finish the job.
“I’ve watched how we built our streets, whether the parks system has kept up with growth and if we have the right kind of jobs to support a tax base,” Gard said. “We relied heavily on restaurants and retail and never figured what would happen if the economy dropped. Then, we lost 1,500 jobs between US Fidelis and the General Motors plant and see a school district that is trying to raise taxes to survive. So, we’re paying a pretty steep price for the past 10 years and have the opportunity to correct that now (with the election) and move in a different direction.”
Gard said he thinks the development of the proposed will be one of the biggest issues of the year. The large development will affect the residents and the area near Bear Creek Subdivision, and the developers are asking for $7.2 million in taxpayer funding through a Community Improvement District. If approved, that means shoppers at the store will pay an additional half-cent sales tax to pay for construction of a store owned by the wealthiest of retailers.
“I’ve had a lot of great conversations going door-to-door, and I’ve had my best conversations stopping at people’s houses,” Gard said. “Everyone in Wentzville that I’ve spoken with is for it, but many aren’t happy with the sales tax. One way or another, whether I’m in the audience or on the Board, on April 13 I’ll be there for the public hearing.”
“I think people are a little tired of going to the sales tax well,” Gard said, noting that Wentzville’s current tax rate is 8.45 percent, one of the highest in the state. “I’d like to see a study on the impact on shopping if sales taxes would lower. At what level would shopping increase and what level would they decrease? Are we doing what is good for the city?” he asked.
Gard holds a degree in public relations and political science, a dual major from Miami University in Oxford, OH, the area where he was born and raised.
“I had planned to get into politics after graduating, but ended up with so many student loans to pay off, I got caught in the business world and never left,” Gard said.
Now, at the prompting of others, he said he’s throwing his hat into the ring, offering his knowledge of politics and his skills in business development to a city he believes could use it well.
“It’s interesting. I did a short stint in Ohio when I was younger, working on a congressional campaign and a presidential campaign, so I’m familiar with the workings of government,” Gard said. “I’m bringing more real-world experience into city government. Some folks think that’s a good thing.”
The developer in Gard's subdivision is bankrupt and long gone, much like developers in other Wentzville subdivisions.
“I know it’s a tricky business, and there are good builders and bad builders, but we grew up so fast, we didn’t have a good plan,” Gard said.
It’s been several years since Gard’s zen for the political life started creeping back. That’s when he started attending board meetings and observed how work of the City has changed, he said.
“I think to be able to manage the job of alderman of Ward 2 you have to bring energy, and with 21 years of business development and cost control experience, and the ability to meet goals in a timely way, it’s something I can bring to local government that will help the board and everyone in Wentzville.”
Gard is married to Helen and has two children, Christian, 9, and Katie, 5.