Wichita Mayoral Candidates participated in a forum last week sponsored by non-profit business leaders. It’s one of several forums leading up to the general election April 7th. KMUW’s Carla Eckels reports…
City Council member Jeff Longwell and Former Advertising Executive Sam Williams were asked to identify the top challenges facing the city as well as their priorities if elected mayor.
Jeff Longwell: Certainly one of the top challenges is going to be trying to figure out a permanent funding stream for our public transportation. I have always said that public transportation is not just for the transit dependent, public transportation is incredibly important if you want to have a robust economy locally so transit is critically important to how we grow our downtown to bring visitors into this city and transport them around and our ability to get conventions here but it’s also important to those transit dependent. I have a daughter who doesn’t drive. We have a lousy transit system that needs to be improved but we are not going to improve transit with a five -year fix. The other part of that is jobs, we’ve got to diversify jobs in this community and it’s incredibly important that we try to maintain the aviation jobs but we’ve got to diversity and I think we can do that with innovation, with this blue print for Regional Economic Growth and with an export plans that combines it and allows us to grow jobs differently than what we’ve been trying to do for the last eight, or nine, ten years.
Sam Williams: For me the number one priority is job creation to make sure that we replace the 30 thousand jobs we’ve had leave our community in the last 8 years. The second is infrastructure and the third is creating the opportunity for us to have trust in our local government. I plan on doing job creation and encouraging job creation by making sure we re-engage the entrepreneurs who have been involved in this community and created so much wealth over the last many years, re-engage that and helping us to create opportunities for young entrepreneurs to incubate accelerate and then to mainstream their businesses. What Dr. Bardo is doing at WSU is the innovation center is absolutely on target for helping that happen. And it’s also important for us to create that environment for small businesses to be comfortable in growing in Kansas. 90 percent of the job growth that occurs in America comes from employees with less than 10 employees. We need to create the environment that the regulatory environment is such and the tax and fee environment is such that it’s easy for us to grow business that Wichita is a magnet for small businesses to grow and third in the job creation we need to make sure we take care of our existing major manufacturers. As they evolve into what they are evolving into we need to make sure that we have the workforce so that they will stay here. Now government’s role is not to create jobs. Government’s role is to make sure that we have the place that is safe, that is clean, that we have water, sewer that we have all of those basic things that are necessary so that I as a small business person or you as a small business person or a large business can attract and keep the workforce that you need so your businesses will grow. That’s government’s role.
Sam Williams: First of all I totally agree that we were unclear about the plan because we voted down a sales tax to fund water. And my belief is that we got parts of a strategy to deal with long-term water but we don’t really have a plan of how they fit together. The ASR has been determined through our previous mayor that this was part of that plan. We’ve also discovered since that time that there are serious issues the ASR that pumping water into the ground doesn’t just benefit us it benefits others so how do we make sure we get properly paid for the water and that those who are using it share in the cost of it. But also I think supply comes from understanding that the way we bill for water the way our public works work needs to be investigated because we don’t have in our system right now the ability to build in conservation because we need to sell water to fund the system. That doesn’t make any sense to me. We have to be able to use good conservation methods to make sure is available and that we are using water wisely. Also another thing that is attached to this is that It’s a regional and state issue it’s not just Wichita. We need to involve the cities around us who buy from us we need to involve the county, we need to involve the state and come up with a regional plan for water that will allow for us for the next 50 years.
Jeff Longwell: Our ASR known as Aquifer Storage Recharge is a program and it has had issues. I’ve shared it this way. I have a son that’s an aero space engineer so no knock on engineers when they initiated ASR it was a bunch of really smart engineers running theories on a white board that said if we do this, and this and this we’ll have a 50 year water supply. It hasn’t quite worked out that way. We’ve had to replace pumps, we’ve had to replace lines, we haven’t been able to capture enough water. It hasn’t been able to do what they thought their theories would allow it to do. The good news is that we’ve been operating ASR for about three years now. We know what it will take to fix it. Storing water under ground is a great way to store water what people don’t realize is we lose more water at Cheney lake in a summer month to evaporation than we pump I mean it just simply evaporates so storing water underground is a great way to store water. What we have to find is a more equitable solution to pay for it. Often times people in this community and the people we serve water to only uses about 50 percent m, 60 percent max of the water source known as the Equus beds but they want us to pay 100 percent of the cost of the recharge. That’s simply isn’t fair so we’ve got to figure out a way to capture enough water to make that system work more efficiently and then equitable way to pay for it so that everyone can share in those costs and not just put it on the backs of Wichitans.
Sam Williams: We have the opportunity in Wichita and we’re behind, we’re behind in the walkability, the green space, the cleanliness the ability to live in the downtown and have the amenities that you need to have. We need to move toward having those kinds of things in our community. We need to make sure that our neighborhoods are strong you know not all people want to live downtown not all young people want to live downtown. They want to pick an ethnic neighborhood to live in we need to make sure that we provide the opportunities for our neighborhoods to also accelerate and be able to participate and not get left behind as our city does these things and as it improves. As we do those things we will create a place where our young people will want to come and will want to stay.
Jeff Longwell: That was one of my issues the way that we bundled that sales tax there wasn’t a penny in their for quality of life and specifically I think we need to address quality of life and I think we are starting to do that in this community. And we need to continue with that movement. You are almost talking about opportunities to rebuild our core area along with looking a gentrification and what that means for a vibrant community. And I think that when this project starts springing up again this year on the river where we will again have boat and bike rental and a new park right here on the river. You are going to see activity in the river corridor itself become more active. But we need to look at putting dollars where we can continue to improve the quality of life. I get it that we can never make everyone happy. We’re putting more dollars into our bike and walk path because the number one leisure activity for Wichitans is walking for pleasure and so we got to continue to promote those programs but you can’t do it you start putting real dollars into programs like what you are going to see on the river, like what will be presented later this year for what we are calling advanced learning center on the river that’s much, much different that what our library looks like today. And so it’s those quality of life experiences that truly are going to make a difference in this community and we have some great foundation that has been set but there is a lot of work that has to be done.
Sam Williams: I spent 40 years in a profession where I established credentials where I established the ability to lead a visionary business. You know, the financial business, I’m the Chief Financial Officer and that’s an area of the business that I grew up in. But the advertising business if you’ll think about it is a business that has to reinvent itself every two to three years. Remember just six years ago, all of you have a smart device in you hand, just six short years ago that was invented and it’s totally completely re invented how we communicate with one another and we have to establish how to stay current, how to stay relevant in the market and I believe cities have to have that same thing. We have to have leadership that will help us to not just get the things done the way they’ve always been done but do things better to do things smart and to be able to set a vision for a city. Our council has a wonderful opportunity to do this but for some reason they haven’t it’s my belief that my biggest asset is to make change happen thank you.
Jeff Longwell: You know I’ve been a part of a growing business in this community I understand how to grow jobs I’ve my own business for a number of years. I have been a public servant in a number of different ways including 12 years on a school board that last eight years on the city council and we’ve had some tough decisions to make. We have managed this city through the toughest recessionary time that some people have said since the great depression and we have balanced our budget every year. We’ve taken care of those important issues. Come out to west Wichita and I’ll show you a wide variety of projects that we’ve been able to accomplish in the last eight years and still keep over 25 million dollars in the emergency reserves so that our bond rating continues to be an all time high. We do have bonding capacity because we’ve managed our resources very well and so simply I submit it’s that combination of experience understanding of what it takes to grow jobs and an understanding of what public services is about and that combination of that experience I believe would make me a good mayor.
Mayoral Candidate Jeff Longwell along with his opponent Sam Williams. The General Election in Wichita is April 7th.
Wichita State's Student Government Association is hosting another forum today (April 3) at 12:15 pm, Lindquist Hall room LH200, on the WSU campus. Find more information on the SGA's Facebook page.