Stating his desire to build community consensus from atop a black-painted box “stump,” Brandon Kelliher Tuesday became the first declared candidate for North Platte mayor in next year’s city elections.
“I know that if we work together, we can really build something fantastic,” the Great Plains Health chief information officer told about 50 people at the downtown Switchyard restaurant. “We can make a city that is in fact growing and prospering.”
Kelliher, 50, said he has long “listened to the issues of North Platte” — especially the need for more jobs and better housing — as a born-and-bred resident who left only for college and then came home.
The 1987 North Platte High School graduate said he declared his plans eight months before the May 2020 primary so he can meet with and gather thoughts from a wide variety of residents.
His website (bkmayor.com) calls for pursuing “responsible spending,” planning for “proactive improvements” in North Platte’s infrastructure and “making North Platte a business-friendly community” with more employers and improved wages.
“We have to figure out as a city how we move forward, because we are in fact losing jobs,” Kelliher told his Switchyard audience. He wants to grow and lure “really great jobs” that lets residents “live like they want to — not just survive.”
Mayor Dwight Livingston, whose second four-year term will expire in December 2020, has not yet announced whether he will run again. Livingston was unavailable for comment Tuesday night.
Kelliher holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and received his master’s in business administration from the University of Phoenix.
He started his adult career at TC Engineering, where he had worked summers during college alongside his father, the late Bill Kelliher. He left in 1995 to found Netquest, North Platte’s first internet provider, and took his information technology skills to GPH in 1999.
Kelliher’s wife, Terri Burchell, is a member of the North Platte Planning Commission. By marrying her in 2014, his website says, he “received the blessing of an instant family” in Burchell’s children, Samantha and Justin.
In his 10-minute announcement speech, Kelliher credited Burchell for stirring his interest in the mayor’s job. “I think, honestly, my wife got tired of me talking about it and said, ‘You need to do something about this.’”
He doesn’t think “there’s necessarily been a lack of leadership” in city government, he told The Telegraph in a brief post-announcement interview.
But Kelliher said he believes his interpersonal skills can help residents navigate issues where agreement has long been elusive, such as the quarter-century-long rift over Iron Eagle Golf Course.
“My position is that our community has to resolve Iron Eagle in order to move forward,” whatever that might entail, he said. Though no one intended it, the golf course argument “has become an impediment to growth for our community.”
North Platte needs to be “very thoughtful and intelligent about how we choose to create tax revenue,” including revitalizing the downtown and mall districts, Kelliher said.
Through smart small-business development and promoting downtown living — whether in a restored Hotel Pawnee or renovated upper floors of downtown structures — the city can generate more in sales taxes and save by providing services to “a more dense population area,” he said.
North Platte’s December 2018 housing study points out the need for stronger enforcement of building codes and clearing away homes beyond repair in favor of new housing units, Kelliher said.
Echoing several of his GPH colleagues, he said reasonably affordable “workforce housing” is critical if North Platte is to lure young professionals and broaden its employment base as Bailey Yard employment shrinks.
One might better expect job recruits to buy older homes, Kelliher said, “if we can create a community where people are making good wages” and can better afford the additional costs to renovate them.
“But with other communities offering excellent housing at a low cost,” he said, “why would you move to a community where you have to spend a lot of money to buy a reasonable house?”
Kelliher said his campaign plans to be active on social media and release a series of videos, some of which will remind eligible North Platte voters how to register for next year’s election.
His campaign advisers include Fiona Libsack, GPH’s chief development officer, who served as mayor of Scottsbluff before she moved to North Platte.