New Wichita City Council members want to get back to the basics
Two new faces will join the Wichita City Council this week.
Political newcomers Maggie Ballard and Mike Hoheisel are replacing current council members Cindy Claycomb and Jared Cerrullo after a spirited election last year.
Both newcomers are similar: They’re both parents. They’re both small business owners, and they’re active in their communities.
They also just consider themselves to be normal people.
“I'm kind of a square compared to a lot of the other people nowadays,” Hoheisel said. “So just stay at home with my family and watch the Chiefs and the Royals on TV and get out in the community when I need to, when there's issues that drive me up.”
Hoheisel is a familiar face in grassroots organizing. He’s worked with various groups focusing on voting rights, immigration and criminal justice reform. Now, he’s able to help shape policy.
“I think there are specific experiences that will prepare me to be a City Council member for the 3rd District,” he said. “I've lived this life. These are my friends. These are my family members.
“So when I'm going to work every day, I got skin in the game.”
Ballard is also involved in her community – and has been since she was a kid.
In the 1990s, her parents owned an antique store in downtown Wichita near Naftzger Park. Being a kid, she would get bored at her family’s store and would just go out and have conversations with people nearby.
“I remember a guy had his legs amputated, and … I've always been a really good listener but I was aware of my surroundings and like. ‘Hey, you know, these guys are in a different situation, and I am going to go home and even though they have a home, there's like something else kind of going on.’
“So, I've always kind of been interested in like, ‘What can we do? What can I do? How can we make him feel better, even if it's just a conversation or just listening?’ ”
That theme of listening continued throughout her life. Now, Ballard and her son, Paxton, are founders of Paxton's Blessings Box – a nonprofit like the Little Free Libraries, but with nonperishable foods and hygiene products instead of books.
“It grew way faster than – I mean we just kind of put it up in our yard on a whim,” Ballard said. “And that was five years ago, and we have over 100 locations. We're in seven different states.”
With their previous experiences, and as newcomers on the council, both have said they just want the city to get back to the basics.
“We have focused so much on development, development, development, development, which is great. You need some of that, too,” Ballard said.
“But we also need to get back to the basics and focus on some of the real core issues, which are necessities that we shouldn't have to be fighting this hard about.”
Those basics include water, more public restrooms in parks and an issue that always seems to linger – infrastructure.
In a campaign video in October, Hoheisel was knocking doors in District 3, which covers most of south Wichita. While he was out, he noticed large puddles left behind due to poor drainage in South City.
“It’s a mini lake here, and it’s caused because we have no drainage, no drainage in this area. So, the water just sits here,” Hoheisel said in the video. “And what happens? It ruins our roads. It creates potholes. Your cars mess up. You break an axle, you bust a tire.”
Hoheisel said infrastructure will continue to be a priority during his term.
“I think some of the events of the last year have shown us just how vulnerable we can be if we don't take care of our basic functions of the city,” he said.
Ballard and Hoheisel also made mental health services a forefront of their campaigns.
Both said their districts struggle with mental health and substance abuse issues, especially within the homeless population.
Ballard’s district covers parts of downtown and the Broadway corridor, where homeless services are located.
“There's so many things going on right now with mental health,” Ballard said. “So just, I think, kind of getting a pulse of what the community really needs and making sure that we're not duplicating a bunch of services.”
Ballard, a former ComCare employee, said when new programs and buildings are created to address mental health needs, making sure they have enough staff will have to be a priority.
“We already are so understaffed in social services and social workers and the [Homeless Outreach Team] and ICT-1, there's all of these programs that are incredible, but we need more staff.” she said.
Addressing mental health and addiction will help solve other issues in the city, according to Hoheisel.
“That ties into the number of homeless people we have,” he said. “That ties into sex trafficking, that ties into domestic violence.
“So if we start to attack those issues and address those issues, the positive consequences will be felt throughout several other issues.”
But for now, both said they’re excited to get to work.
“I just want to keep those conversations going,” Ballard said, “and stop talking about things and like actually, like get some things done.”