Three candidates are in the race for Wichita City Council District 4.
Council member Jeff Blubaugh is seeking re-election while Beckie Jenek and Christopher Parisho make their first runs for city office.
Blubaugh began public service in 2011 when he was elected to the Goddard School District’s Board of Education. Two years later, he won the election to fill an unexpired term representing District 4 on the Wichita City Council. He kept that seat in the 2015 election — winning with a two-thirds majority over the other candidate — and is seeking a second full term this year.
Blubaugh says he wants to continue serving District 4 because he still has work to do.
"I’m pretty proud of the work that I’ve done out in southwest and west Wichita," he says. "I think it’s an area that maybe doesn’t get as much attention as the rest of the city."
Blubaugh is a real estate broker and investor. His work experience includes 17 years in sales and marketing at Textron Aviation. He says District 4 has untapped potential for commercial development.
"Logistically, I think southwest Wichita has some of the best areas for commerce because you’re right there at I-135, you’ve got the Kansas Turnpike, you’ve got Kellogg, you have connectivity right to the airport," Blubaugh says.
Jenek also has a business background: She spent the past 20 years working in accounting, human resources and operations management for several local companies. She has volunteered with nonprofits over the years.
Jenek credits her family for inspiring a lifelong interest in public service.
"My dad had been involved in politics when he was young, as did my grandfather," she says. "So I’m just carrying on the family tradition."
Jenek says she was encouraged to run for the city council seat after gaining support in the district through her campaign last year for the Kansas House District 97 seat. She lost the race to Republican Nick Hoheisel.
Parisho worked in the aircraft industry before he launched a career as a professional photographer about six years ago. He serves in leadership roles for Delano neighborhood groups and is a member of the city’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Board.
Parisho says becoming an elected city leader is the next step in his desire to serve the community. He made up his mind to run for office this year after closely watching the city’s for the new baseball stadium in Delano and other projects.
"I’ve been frustrated with things that have been done over the last few years," Parisho says. "A lot of it specifically to do with Delano because that’s where I live, but I’ve also seen the same kinds of problems with other neighborhoods and other parts of the district."
District 4 covers the southwest corner of Wichita from Delano west toward Goddard and south near Haysville. Eisenhower National Airport and the new baseball stadium are signs of growth in the district. The three council candidates agree that future development should expand beyond the downtown area — especially to the unused land south of Kellogg.
Parisho says once infrastructure in the district is improved, there could be more growth.
"There’s a lot of people in District 4 that feel as if they’re not getting as much attention as some of the other districts are," he says.
Jenek says District 4 lacks public services like convenient bus service and sidewalks on streets that children use to get to school; and has limited options for recreation.
"I think it’s time for us to start focusing our resources on quality of life and reinvesting in our forgotten communities," Jenek says.
Blubaugh says infrastructure needs typically top the list of priorities when he surveys constituents for feedback.
"Their priorities have always been water, streets, make sure there’s plenty of adequate jobs in area," he says, "and don’t raise their taxes."
Parisho and Jenek are using their campaigns to challenge Blubaugh on transparency and engagement in the district.
"Right now, a lot of what I see is representation for the business side and special interests," Parisho says. "But it seems like the people who actually have to live and deal with the consequences of what city council does, don’t have a lot of say."
Serving on the city council is a part-time job, though Jenek says that's part of the problem.
"I believe…elected representatives are our elected representatives 24 hours a day, seven days a week during their time in office," she says.
Blubaugh says he uses social media and the District Advisory Board meetings to keep in touch with his constituents. He acknowledges that city government in general needs to continuously improve transparency.
"People constantly say, 'The city is not transparent, we didn’t know about that,'" he says. "Everything’s out there. ... I’ve never felt like we’re hiding anything from citizens, and I think if my constituents don’t think they have all the information, they can email me."
Voters will decide next month whether Blubaugh gets another term or if Jenek or Parisho gets a shot at bringing their vision to city council.
Of the 34,000 registered voters who live in District 4, about 14 percent voted in the 2015 election.