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Government

Your guide to the 2021 Wichita City Council elections

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Wichita City Council candidates discuss Century II, top priorities for their district key and the mental health issues facing the city.

District 1

Brandon Johnson

Occupation: Wichita City Council member

Website: johnsonforwichita.com

The city recently privatized Century II, and its future has been discussed for years. What should the city do with Century II?

The conversation around the use of the Century II facility has been an ongoing one for about a decade with passionate arguments on all sides. I think the Wichita community, private sector, and other stakeholders should continue working toward a plan that encompasses as much of what our community wants for the riverfront as possible. Improved public engagement is a necessity to ensure as many voices are heard as possible and then the plan should be placed on the ballot for our community to decide how we go forward.

If elected, what is your number one priority for your district?

If I am re-elected, my number one priority is continuing to advance opportunity in the heart of our city. We have to address our growing food deserts, public transportation, quality of life and small business support as we move toward the end of this pandemic.

We have been successful in some of these areas and progress is moving at a snail’s pace in others. We have some good work building, and we will need steady – focused leadership to help us pick up the pace of progress and continue building empowering opportunities for our community.

Areas of District 1 are known as food deserts, and the issue is made worse by lack of public transportation in the area. What do you see as the solution to this problem?

I view the solution to food deserts as a complex one with several strategies. While the council works with Director Mike Tann on transit system improvements, we will need to rely on local entrepreneurs and others to address food insecurity. The grocery stores we have lost that have grown the food desert are all run by individuals or companies outside of our city. Our local cultural markets have mostly stayed open and served our community.

We also need to support organizations like Common Ground Growers and Producers, Inc., that deliver food to people directly or provide delivery market locations that citizens can walk to or catch a much shorter bus ride to.

We also need to support more community gardens and/or year round hydroponic gardening that can supply our community at an affordable rate.

These options working together for the betterment of our community could provide a decent start on solving these issues. This is the work I am currently a part of and will continue if re-elected.

What would you do to provide more economic opportunities to residents in District 1?

Thus far we have done a lot, and we need to build upon the steps we have taken. Over my term in office we have offered scholarships to WSU Tech for those who were underemployed or unemployed to change careers and improve social status. We have created a revolving loan program called PROPEL to support small loans up to $15,000 with a fixed interest rate and payable over 36 months. During my first year in office we were able to work with Commerce Bank and Create Campaign to establish Founders’ Grove, which is an entrepreneurial hub in our community. Going forward we have to continue working with our community and the private sector to keep laying the foundation for opportunity to achieve one's American dream in our city.

Myron Ackerman

Occupation: Not provided

Website: None listed

Myron Ackerman did not respond to the KMUW questionnaire.

District 3

Jared Cerullo

Occupation: Wichita City Council member

Website: jared4wichita.com

The city recently privatized Century II, and its future has been discussed for years. What should the city do with Century II?

If there is any plan to demolish or significantly alter Century II, I believe it should go to a public vote. I will bind myself to that public vote, despite such a vote being only advisory to the City Council. I believe privatization is the best route forward in getting Century II back up and running again to its full potential. Further, the city has spent $200,000 per year on maintenance for Century II over the past decade. Yes, there has certainly been deferred maintenance, but the building is not falling apart. Necessary maintenance has always taken place.

If elected, what is your number one priority for your district?

My number one priority is public safety. The city of Wichita has some serious problems among the ranks of both the fire and police departments. Morale among the rank and file members of both departments is not good. I am hearing of serious emergency calls that have gone unanswered by police. Staffing is at critically low levels. The fire department budget has remained virtually stagnant over the past five years, while the police department budget was increased by 26% during that same time period. Further, the overall city budget has risen by 16% in that same time period. We definitely have a funding problem with the fire department, but the problem lies elsewhere with the police department.

Residents complain that new developments, such as housing and retail, often overlook the southside. How would you attract developers to the area?

In order to attract residents and commercial development, the first and foremost issue that needs to be solved is the sewer plant odors that have plagued the south side for decades. It is long past time for city hall to stop dumping on south Wichita residents and fix the problem. One of the first things I did after being appointed to serve the remainder of the unexpired term was to join the Bio-Nutrient Removal Steering Committee. I believe it is vitally important for the District 3 council member to be on the BNR Steering Committee in order to have a say in the decision-making process involving the two wastewater treatment plants. The city can apply for low-interest state and federal loans that will pay for the transformation of the two sewer plants in order to eliminate the terrible odors entirely. I already helped to begin that process since I joined the council six months ago.

What is your solution to improving the quality of life across the city for people who are facing mental health or substance abuse issues?

Mental health and substance abuse is at the heart of so many of our problems in District 3. I believe the ICT1 mobile mental health and crisis unit needs to be fully funded and utilized. This unit embeds social workers with Wichita Police Officers in order to get people help where they're at. We cannot police ourselves out of these problems. Right now, ICT1 is severely underfunded and only operates one shift, five days per week. It needs to have the funding to operate as a 24/7 unit.

Mike Hoheisel

Occupation: Small business owner

Website: hoheiselforwichita.com

The city recently privatized Century II, and its future has been discussed for years. What should the city do with Century II?

Century II has been an icon of the city landscape for generations, and as I grow older I realize more and more just how important it is to have common links to the past. The truth of the matter is that poor management has led to a state of disrepair of our (the people's) building. As such, the next step is dependent on what the people want to do with their building, and must be put to a binding vote. I personally want to keep it around in some form and will campaign on it, but I am a man of the people and will follow their will. There are many options from restoring it using funds partially provided by the state to repurposing it for alternate uses. One thing I believe is clear is that we have more important priorities around the city and cannot afford another expensive project that will further plunge us in debt at this time.

If elected, what is your number one priority for your district?

The number one priority for our district has to be to get our hands around the mental health and addiction crisis we are facing. The fallout from ignoring this crisis has impacted many of the other issues we're facing, from neighborhood blight and the number of homeless to theft and domestic abuse. Unfortunately, these issues have hit most families across the district in one form or another. We won't be able to get our district back on its feet until something is done.

Residents complain that new developments, such as housing and retail, often overlook the southside. How would you attract developers to the area?

First, I will hold the use of special tax breaks and/or programs to the standards provided by state and city requirements. Most of these are supposed to be geared to low income, blighted areas of need, yet they are mostly focused on high affluent areas. I want to start a small business council of 3rd District businesses to advise on barriers and needs of small businesses in the area. If we can get our hands around our addiction and mental health crisis we can give businesses around our district room to breathe and grow. Right now, we have two economic opportunity zones with deferments on property taxes: one on south Broadway and one on east Harry. East Harry is growing while south Broadway is struggling, and issues such as theft and vagrancy have a lot to do with the different outcomes. Finally we can advertise city programs such as IRB's (internal revenue bonds) and EDX's (economic development exemptions) to take advantage of existing warehouses and machinery in the district.

What is your solution to improving the quality of life across the city for people who are facing mental health or substance abuse issues?

Addressing mental health and addiction issues are, to me, the centerpieces to getting our district back on track. We need to address these needs piecemeal with programs that make sense. Expanding workforce development to include training in the fields of health care, especially mental health, is vital to providing the employees needed for any new programs, such as the new 988 suicide prevention hotline and to fill current vacancies in COMCARE. A quality campus/mental hospital needs to be built in Wichita, and assistance needs to be given to local CCBHC's (Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics) so they can be brought up to standards that will qualify them for additional state/federal funding. We need to fully fund programs within our police department, such as ICT1, that can respond appropriately to people going through mental health crisis. We need to work with county officials to streamline the process so our programs are utilized wisely.

District 6

Maggie Ballard

Occupation: Small business owner

Website: votemaggieballard.com

The city recently privatized Century II, and its future has been discussed for years. What should the city do with Century II?

My top priority as a council member upon taking office will be to act as a watchdog over the new contract privatizing Century II. It is critical the performing arts organizations that make Wichita unique are still able to operate at an affordable cost. There is no real plan for a new performing arts center nailed down yet and until that is a reality, we must do what we can to preserve Century II. Many Wichitans have worked on Broadway because access to performing arts is affordable for kids growing up in Wichita. If costs skyrocket for our organizations and ticket prices go up due to this privatization experiment, it hurts opportunities for our youth. The City of Wichita has a bad history when it comes to holding private management accountable, I think change on the city council is essential to hold this management company to their promises.

If elected, what is your number one priority for your district?

My number one priority would be to get back to the basics of what we need in our neighborhoods. If we want to attract people to live in the core of our city, and actually grow our tax base, we need to ensure we have good roads and people feel safe. The city must tackle our mental health and substance abuse issues head on by investing in 24/7 services that get those struggling the help they need immediately. We can’t keep expecting our problems to get solved by working banker’s hours.

District 6 has a diverse mixture of neighborhoods. How do you meet the interests of each of those?

I think growing up and owning businesses in the district has given me the unique experience needed to represent District 6. When you own a local business, you have to create and maintain relationships with other businesses and customers throughout the district and city. You learn to listen to someone’s issue and help them connect to another person in the neighborhood who can help them out. The key to maintaining diversity in neighborhoods is to support the local businesses in those neighborhoods. Small, family-owned businesses create and maintain their own culture and economies. I know I have the experience to balance the big quality of life projects we need downtown to thrive as a city, while protecting the local culture of each of our neighborhoods, by giving the businesses and residents what they need to be safe and successful.

Residents in Riverside raised concerns about recent development projects along the river and didn’t think they were heard on the issue. How will you balance constituent feedback and growth for the district?

In my experience, most residents opposed to various development projects are frustrated by a long tradition of feeling like they haven’t been heard on many projects over the years. The concerns about the Riverside development stem from complaints that the current roads cannot handle this additional traffic. This concern is entirely reasonable, but it was brushed off by the city. Residents were told that, in fact, they were wrong and traffic would be fine. Just this weekend, we had a truck smash into a business because there is too much traffic for the kind of traffic controls that currently exist in Riverside. Riverside is an historic neighborhood, and we have to ensure that before we build up, we have the infrastructure in place to handle the additional people. I would balance ensuring people feel heard by looking at the larger issues that are raised during public comment on development projects and make sure questions were genuinely considered and not brushed aside as simply “uninformed” or “negative” feedback. People who live in neighborhoods for years understand the problems more acutely than folks looking in from the outside.

Cindy Claycomb

Occupation: Wichita City Council member

Website: cindyclaycomb.com

The city recently privatized Century II, and its future has been discussed for years. What should the city do with Century II?

My vision is for Wichita to have large gathering and performing arts spaces that reflect the values and aspirations of the City of Wichita for generations to come. I am listening to all sides of this issue. My question about the future of Century II is whether renovation or replacement makes the most sense? When this question is answered sufficiently, then we can decide if and how the city’s needs will be best served. Many of us who grew up here and have frequently visited Century II have a great affection for it as a landmark building, especially the circular blue roof. But even those of us who love Century II acknowledge that it is not a functional, modern facility for meetings, trade shows and performances.

If elected, what is your number one priority for your district?

My first priority is always to work with residents to ensure their voices are heard and acted upon. Examples include implementing neighborhood plans, reducing neighborhood blight, addressing traffic concerns, improving parks and exploring areas that need protection (e.g., river corridor, historic districts, urban tree canopy) or revitalization (e.g., North Broadway).

My longer-term goals include:

• Supporting programs that train residents for high-paying, in-demand jobs, and advocating for small businesses that need help with start-up and growth

• Addressing crime through new programs such as SERV that focuses attention and resources on youth involved in shooting incidents; Operation Triple Beam that led to more than 900 arrests of violent offenders, and the Domestic Violence Unit that assists high-risk victims and monitors high-risk offenders

• Opening the new District 6 community center that will house a branch library, city services, DCF and other nonprofits connecting residents to education, workforce readiness, and small business development programs and resources

• Working to develop a sustainable, accessible and integrated system of care that serves people with mental health and substance abuse disorders who are in crisis

• Working with the South Central Kansas Transportation Coalition, Regional Economic Area Partnership, as well as our government relations liaison in Washington, D.C., to return passenger rail to Wichita

District 6 has a diverse mixture of neighborhoods. How do you meet the interests of each of those?

While there is a diverse mixture of neighborhoods, I’ve found through walking every neighborhood, attending neighborhood meetings, and responding to individual constituents, that the interests of District 6 residents generally revolve around thriving neighborhoods (including public safety and crime reduction), a strong local economy (with good paying jobs) and vibrant quality of life initiatives (including parks, recreation and cultural arts amenities).

Residents’ voices should be heard on issues of concern to them, including ensuring public safety through community policing and community partnerships; providing accessible services; improving crumbling infrastructure; addressing/reducing blight; encouraging affordability and diverse price points in housing, and addressing the root causes of homelessness.

I meet the interests of the diverse mixture of District 6 neighborhoods by working with District 6 community police officers and community partners on safety; by working on zoning cases, street repair and neighborhood plans; working on projects such as creation of a new District 6 Community Center; effective implementation of the City of Wichita’s urban infill strategy, and by leveraging the City of Wichita’s funding for homelessness prevention/services and services provided by community partners to eliminate barriers to access to care for those experiencing homelessness.

Residents in Riverside raised concerns about recent development projects along the river and didn’t think they were heard on the issue. How will you balance constituent feedback and growth for the district?

I balance constituent feedback and change through attentive listening and engagement with residents. For example, I worked with neighbors to stop inappropriate cell tower locations on the riverbank and in a residential neighborhood; pass an ordinance to combat street racing that neighbors identified as a persistent problem; replace plans for a five-story apartment tower with single family homes; assist with the donation of a park in Sherwood Glen, and save neighborhood pools from closing and ensure renovation.

I will continue to intensely engage residents on any issues of concern to them. I regularly attend neighborhood association meetings, meet individually with neighbors, answer emails and phone calls, and generally engage with constituents on issues and challenges of interest to them.

I always take residents’ voices into account before making decisions.