© 2024 KMUW
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
00000179-cdc6-d978-adfd-cfc6d7d40002Coverage of the issues, races and people shaping Kansas elections in 2016, including statewide coverage in partnership with KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, and High Plains Public Radio.

A Look At The Sedgwick County Commission Candidates

Deborah Shaar, file photo
Michael O'Donnell, Tim Norton, David Dennis and Marcey Gregory.

Two seats on the Sedgwick County Commission are up for election this year.

District 3 Candidates: David Dennis and Marcey Gregory

In the race for District 3, voters will decide whether Republican David Dennis or independent Marcey Gregory will be the new representative.  

Credit http://www.sedgwickcounty.org

David Dennis

David Dennis is a retired United States Air Force colonel and a retired teacher. He also has leadership experience from serving on a variety of local, state and regional organizations. 

Deborah Shaar: What is the most pressing issue right now in the 3rd District, and how would you handle it if elected?

David Dennis: I think the most pressing issue is still the budget, making sure we are doing the things that are going to grow Sedgwick County and make this a better community to live in.

So the economic conditions and job growth?

Job growth, growing our businesses and making sure that we have the amenities that the public wants.

This year, the county began using a priority-based budgeting process, where funding allocations and reductions were based on newly defined tiers of county services. Do you support this approach?

Credit Deborah Shaar / KMUW
Sedgwick County Commission District 3 candidate David Dennis.

I don’t have a problem with having certain priorities, it’s just that we need to make sure that those priorities are what are going to grow Sedgwick County and what are going to make the quality of life for our citizens.

Are you familiar with how the county services and functions are divided among the three different levels, and do you support where things fell in that ranking system?

I do, but we need to make sure that the quality of life issues are also addressed because those are what keep the people in Sedgwick County. They are what grow our economy, they make things so that people want to come to Sedgwick County to live.

Do you have any specific ideas or plans for how to grow the economy in Sedgwick County?

Yes, again, we need to look at what are budget priorities are and take a look at how we are funding those priorities. Right now, we are not funding bridges and so forth with bond issues. We’re doing all that with cash. If we move some of that money into actual funding and bond those projects, we can still look at some of the quality of life issues, health and so forth, to help Sedgwick County.

The other thing we need to look at is how do we support our community businesses and Sedgwick County businesses to grow the economy. By having Sedgwick County at the table doing the negotiations, unlike they were with Cargill, we can help grow our economy here in Sedgwick County.

As you know, there are two seats on the county commission up for election, so there will be at least one new person coming on the board of commissioners. If that new person is you, how do you see yourself fitting in with the rest of the commissioners?

I don’t have a problem with dealing with any of the folks on the current commission. I’ve talked to each and every one of them. I understand where they are coming from. I believe that we can work together.

You describe yourself as a conservative Republican, so how do you see that fitting in with the conservative majority that has often had the upper hand with votes the past few years?

I think they are really more Libertarian in some cases than Republican, and I am more Republican. I am conservative, but I believe that we can do some things like bonding some major projects. So there is a difference between the current majority and where I’m coming from.

In your mind, what characteristics are most important to being a commissioner?

First of all, we need to be able to listen to our citizens. One of the things that I’ve proposed is that I want to form a “citizens advisory council,” so that I can listen to the citizens in Sedgwick County – to make sure that I’m listening to what they want and what they need out of that Board of County Commissioners.

I think being a good listener, my past budget experience, I think is extremely valuable [in] making sure that we do the things that are going to grow Sedgwick County.

Marcey Gregory

Marcey Gregory is a small business owner and the mayor of Goddard. This is her second try at becoming a Sedgwick County commissioner.

Back in 2008, she ran as a Democrat and lost the race to Karl Peterjohn, the current commissioner for the 3rd District. He lost his re-election bid to Republican David Dennis in the August primary. This time around, Gregory is running as an independent candidate.


Credit Courtesy photo
Sedgwick County Commission District 3 candidate Marcey Gregory.

Deborah Shaar: What is the most pressing issue right now in the 3rd District, and how would you handle it, if elected?

Marcey Gregory: I think the most pressing issue is the economy. I think we need jobs, jobs, and more jobs, and I would do what I have done as mayor of Goddard. I would reach out to businesses and try to encourage them to locate in our area. We’ve been very successful in doing that. We’ve had at least 18 new businesses since I became mayor. That, in my opinion, is the best way to keep taxes low, as well as add to the tax base. And we’ve been, like I said, very successful at that, so I would continue along those lines.

So jobs and the economy issues facing the county in general, or just the 3rd District?

I think the county in general. The 3rd District is certainly the largest district in Sedgwick County, but those are problems that are statewide.

This year, the county began using a priority-based budgeting process, where funding allocations and reductions were based on newly defined tiers of county services. Do you support this approach?

Yes, I think it’s a good approach. Unfortunately, some of the lower tiers are certainly still a priority, so I think we need to continue to work and look at that. One of the third-tier funding allocations is people with developmental disabilities, and that is certainly a priority. If I had a child that was being served by those services, I would certainly want that to be more of a priority than that is. So again, I think we need to continually work and look at that and reevaluate it, so we make sure that we are serving everyone.

You have election experience, you’re a mayor—obviously you were elected to that position, and you ran for county commission in 2008, and you had some close elections previously as well, so how are you approaching this campaign?

I’m working very hard, and I’m hoping that’s demonstrating to the voters of Sedgwick County that they want somebody to work hard on their behalf, and I am certainly doing that. I’ve been knocking on a lot of doors. To even get on the ballot, I had to get 2,500 signatures. Well, I surpassed that. I actually got 3,051.

So I’ve knocked a lot of doors, and I’m still doing that. I’ve been in the smaller cities, and I’m in west Wichita right now—just wanting to make contact with as many people as possible, and hear what’s important to them and then try to figure out a plan of action and then act on that when I’m successful as county commissioner.

Have campaign contributions factored into your campaign, and has that been any part of concern for you?

I have not been able to fundraise quite as much. That’s been a little frustrating. I’ve had to go a much more grassroots approach, so I’ve had to be very creative with what I have raised.

In your mind, what characteristics are most important to being a commissioner?

Being hard-working, certainly. Being responsive. Again, I’ve heard, from knocking doors, that people are frustrated with politicians as a whole because they don’t feel like they are being listened to. And so I make a point as mayor, and certainly knocking doors as applying for the county commissioner job, to listen to people and be responsive to them. Do what I can to help them.

District 2 Candidates: Tim Norton and Michael O'Donnell

The race for District 2 is between the current representative, Commissioner Tim Norton, and outgoing state Sen. Michael O’Donnell.

Tim Norton

Tim Norton is the longest-serving county commissioner and the only Democrat on the five-person board.

Before he was elected to the commission, Norton served as the mayor of Haysville and on the Haysville City Council. And before that, he had a career in retail.


Deborah Shaar: You’re going for a fifth term on the county commission. That’s quite a bit of experience serving the county. Your opponent has made your tenure a campaign issue. Has that affected your approach to this election?

Tim Norton: I continue to talk about my values and what I've done for the county. I represent south-central and southwest [Sedgwick County], and I’ve done a lot for that area. I think experience counts. I can mentor staff and other commissioners and the public with what’s happening on the south side, and I know that because I’ve had my feet firmly planted in Haysville for quite a few years.

Credit Deborah Shaar / KMUW
District 2 County Commissioner Tim Norton.

What would you say is the first priority for District 2 in the coming years?

Well, right now we are stuck with some major drainage, flood and groundwater issues that I need to continue to work on. That’s not everything that I need to do down there. There’s some infrastructure that I want to get built, some roads and bridges that need to be improved. And then, try to re-engage on the whole jobs and economic development process that we are so behind on.

Do you have any ideas on how you would work on the job growth for the area?

Well, part of it is re-engaging with the partnership, the Wichita partnership and some of the other economic development groups. We’ve been a little one-off. We got out of REAP, which is the Regional Economic Area Partnership. I think we should re-engage with those kinds of things.

[That] doesn’t mean we need to put a lot of money into it for incentives, but we need to help build infrastructure, we need to help with job training and development. We’re very attached to the National Center for Aviation Training and WATC. We need to continue that, but I just don’t think we are as engaged as the county should be. We’re one of the major players in this community and in this region and we need to be more engaged in that conversation.

As you know, there will be a new person coming on to the Board of Commissioners, the winner of the District 3 race. How do you think that change will affect the overall make-up of the board and the philosophy that drives some of the decisions concerning county government?

I think that remains to be seen. I have to tell you, you said I was a Democrat—you know, I’ve always worked with four Republicans. That’s not the problem for me. I’ve always tried to be civil and collegial and advance good thoughts, progressive thoughts. They don’t always pan out to do what exactly I wanted to do, but that’s the process of democracy—to have the conversation, the dialogue the debate and then try to do what’s right for your community.

Your opponent has out-raised you in campaign contributions, with maybe three times as much funding as you. Does that affect your efforts on getting support from voters in the district?

I don’t think so. I’ve raised a significant amount of money, more than I’ve ever raised in a campaign. I’m trying to spend it judiciously, making sure that I have a campaign that reaches every piece of the populace. So, does money win races? Or does experience, knowledge and years of being in the arena win out? I don’t know. I’ve tried to say that resume, reputation and relationships are more important than anything else.

We’re just days away from the general election. How’s your campaign going, and what are you up to?

Well, first of all, I’m ready for it to be over with because it’s a grind. It is not the fun part. Knocking doors and meeting people and saying hi—that part is pretty easy to do. But, you know, the fundraising, the worrying about where to be the next moment and just the grind of being out trying to meet as many people as [you] can, [it] wear on you. The key is, on the other side, I love public service. I want to do it, and continue with it, to make a difference in my community. So, you sacrifice the time, energy and the headaches of a campaign to be able to continue to do what you love to do.

Michael O'Donnell

Michael O’Donnell is the Republican going for the District 2 seat currently held by Tim Norton.

O’Donnell is finishing up his first term in the state Senate. Before he joined the Legislature, he served on the Wichita City Council.


Deborah Shaar: Why did you decide to leave the Senate and make a run for county commissioner?

Michael O’Donnell: Well, there are really two reasons. When I talk to people, it can’t be summed up with just the fact that I’m a true believer that more change can be impacted on the local level. Being one of five people on the county commission, your vote carries a whole lot of weight versus being one of 165 in the Kansas Legislature, where it gets more lost in translation. At the time that I had announced, Commissioner Norton had said he wasn’t running again. I think with this fifth term, it would be 20 years in office, and he had told people he enjoyed it, but he was ready to retire. I was approached about running.

Credit Deborah Shaar / KMUW
KMUW, File Photo
Sedgwick County Commission District 2 candidate Michael O'Donnell.

Did you regret your decision then when you heard that he was in the race?

You know, I’m a firm believer that voters should have an opportunity to decide who they want to represent them and you should give voters a choice. So no, I never regretted for any minute saying that I wish I didn’t run for county commission, because I do think we offer some pretty diametrically opposed views on a lot of important issues. And so the voters can decide which direction they want to go.

You have some ads that are making your opponent’s length of experience and salary campaign issues. Why are those issues important to you?

Well, I think they are very important to the voters, just to know that they do have an opportunity to get a fresh experience, a fresh voice into the commission. If you ask the general public, they do believe in and would love term limits on their elected officials. I told people that I would serve no more than 12 years, which would be three terms. At the city level, it’s two terms, which is eight years. So there’s definitely, I think, there’s a hunger for that.

What would you say is the first priority for District 2 in the coming years?

It’s really isn’t just District 2, I think it’s our whole region, and that is jobs and the economy. I think we have to be working to keep every company we have here already locked down. We saw earlier this year where Cargill was looking at leaving, which would’ve had a devastating blow both for two reasons. The first would obviously be losing all those jobs, 800-some jobs here in Wichita, and the amount of income, sales, property tax that would cost us. Secondly, the reason why something like that would be so devastating is the morale issue. We haven’t really recovered from Boeing leaving, at least in our thought process. People still feel downtrodden because of that.

So how do you see yourself fitting in with the board and with the current commissioners who will be returning for the next term?

Well, I think the most important thing is to build good partnerships with your colleagues and good friendships because a lot of the acrimony and a lot of the division that we’ve had isn’t just bad for relations with the City of Wichita, the state and so on...it’s bad for the relations between the five members of the commission.

So philosophically, would you have a connection with the commissioners on the board?

I feel, philosophically, I have a connection with all of the members because I think when we get way too rigid on key issues, we all end up losing. But I think I’m going to agree economically with people like Dave Unruh. And I might agree more on other policies like social policies with Jim Howell. But at the end of the day, we’re all going to support, hopefully, what the people who elected us to do want us to do.

With the election just days away now, how are you feeling about your campaign?

You know, I always feel like I’m running 10 points behind, and in a lot of cases, you are. I know that I’ve been behind in virtually every race that I’ve ever been involved in and it makes you work a little harder, and that’s a good thing. It keeps me humble, and it makes sure that I don’t let off the gas.

Below is a piece of Michael O'Donnell, Tim Norton, Marcey Gregory and David Dennis' campaign expense reports. To see the full reports, visit http://www.sedgwickcounty.org/elections/reports.asp

Follow Deborah Shaar on Twitter @deborahshaar.

To contact KMUW News or to send in a news tip, reach us at news@kmuw.org.


Deborah joined the news team at KMUW in September 2014 as a news reporter. She spent more than a dozen years working in news at both public and commercial radio and television stations in Ohio, West Virginia and Detroit, Michigan. Before relocating to Wichita in 2013, Deborah taught news and broadcasting classes at Tarrant County College in the Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas area.