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Mayor, Wichita City Council candidates weigh in on need to boost transparency

Some big questions loom in the future for the Wichita City Council. Should Wichita tear down Century II or leave it standing, to await renovation or repurposing? How does the city ensure that the full potential of development along the Arkansas riverfront gets realized?

Incumbents running for re-election in the Nov. 5 general election see a Wichita City Council that’s well positioned to make the big decisions facing city government, based on their responses to a Journal candidate survey. Their challengers are much less confident, seeing a council that has work to do, especially in terms of fostering transparency.

Incumbents tend to acknowledge the need for more transparency, but say it’s a case of expanding on what’s already being done.

The Journal collected survey responses from Mayor Jeff Longwell and city council members Bryan Frye (District 5), Becky Tuttle (District 2) and Jeff Blubaugh (District 4). Longwell’s challenger, state legislator Brandon Whipple, as did challengers in District 5 (Mike Magness), District 4 (Christopher Parisho and Beckie Jenek) and District 2 (Rodney Wren). The only candidate The Journal did not receive responses from was District 2 challenger Joseph Brian Scapa.

The discussion about transparency comes as critics have expressed concerns related to the construction of a new ballpark built to attract a Triple-A baseball team, which came with a deal giving the team the opportunity to enliven the surrounding area as an entertainment district. Proponents say the deal with bring great results for Wichita, while skeptics question some of the details and how they brought to the public’s attention.

In their survey responses, candidates offered mostly broad insights into how they would maintain or increase the level of trust in city government. Most candidates talked about increasing opportunities for engagement with social media, providing more notice to the public when making decisions and soliciting more citizen input.

Read more about each of the candidates in their own words below. For more information about other races up for vote this fall in Wichita, please visit klcjournal.com/local2019wichitausd259.

Your Local Candidates: In Their Own Words Nov. 5 2019 Kansas local election

Editor’s note: To help readers make their voting choices in the Nov. 5 general election for local offices, The Journal, the Kansas Leadership Center’s quarterly magazine, sent out a survey to more than 250 candidates in communities where our magazine’s readership is the largest. What follows is information from your local candidates, in their own words.

Wichita Mayor

Jeff Longwell, candidate for Wichita Mayor (incumbent)

Please provide a brief introduction and a description of why you are running for office.

I was encouraged to get involved with our community through local political boards. We are fortunate to have a community with much momentum and I would like to see some projects through to completion.

Should you be elected, what is the single most important issue that you would like to see improvement on during your term in office? Please write a few sentences explaining your choice.

My platform focuses on public safety, infrastructure, and quality of life. All three issues are key to Wichita’s growth and success. The public safety issue involves the following of a guided increase in police officers following a blueprint provided by Wichita State University.

As an office holder, how would you try to mobilize efforts to address the important issue you identified above? If you have a sense of specific steps you might take, please share those.

We are already aligned with a blueprint to improve public safety by adding more officers. The issue of improving infrastructure currently has full council support with regard to roads, water and sewer improvements. Quality of life will require additional public engagement to ensure we are addressing the wide range of needs our community would like to see with regard to building a better Wichita.

What level of trust do you believe Wichita residents have in city government?

A moderate amount

In what situations, if any, is it more important to deliver results than to conduct city business using a transparent process?

When we are negotiating to bring new business to Wichita it is often impossible to be transparent. The companies we visit with would not consider having a conversation publicly. The results are everything when it comes to diversifying our local economy and growing new opportunities.

To what extent do you believe the mayor and council are well positioned to make important decisions about the city’s future, such as deciding the fate of Century II?

To a great extent

What, if anything, would you do in office to maintain or increase the level of trust in Wichita’s city government?

We will need to communicate with the public in a manner that encourages the public to provide direction for our city. It is important to understand that we represent the interest of our community.

We will need to communicate with the public in a manner that encourages the public to provide direction for our city. It is important to understand that we represent the interest of our community.

Brandon Whipple, candidate for Wichita Mayor (challenger)

Please provide a brief introduction and a description of why you are running for office.

I’ve served in the Legislature for the past seven years, and I’ve seen how strong local leadership can work with business and state entities to improve the quality of life in our local communities. We can continue to build on the successes of downtown investment while simultaneously ensuring that we have the infrastructure and resources in place to help attract and retain the best talent and business leaders to Wichita. That’s a job that requires a Citywide view. I have the leadership skills and depth of experience in the political process to get this critical task started on day one. As Mayor, I will use my experience and energy to set specific policy objectives for our City and to actively engage in the process of achieving those objectives from start to finish. I am the leader Wichita needs to bring our City into the future by engaging policymakers from all levels of government to work together and create efficient services for our citizens.

Should you be elected, what is the single most important issue that you would like to see improvement on during your term in office? Please write a few sentences explaining your choice.

Wichita’s biggest export is not wheat or airplanes, it’s educated young people. As a father, I want to ensure that my boys have the same opportunities to achieve their dreams in Wichita as I did. That starts by rebuilding trust in City Hall. Currently, City Hall is run by connected insiders who do not spend enough time listening to the people who elected them. Big decisions are being made behind closed doors without public input. If we want to compete with our sister cities like Des Moines, Tulsa and Oklahoma City, we need innovative leadership willing to talk to the people and put their ideas into action.

As an office holder, how would you try to mobilize efforts to address the important issue you identified above? If you have a sense of specific steps you might take, please share those.

First, we must rebuild trust and create a culture of transparency at City Hall. This starts by utilizing technology to communicate with all the different communities that call Wichita home and giving them a real seat at the table. My campaign has already started this personal communication with voters and when elected, I plan to use these tools, such as social media and text messaging, to create a direct dialogue with members of the community. Next, once we create dialogue and provide more opportunities for stakeholders to be heard, we must listen. Right now, we see some attempts to gain feedback from the community, however, most of that feedback is ignored for plans that seem to be crafted by the same inside dealers at City Hall. If we want to retain and attract young, diverse talent, we must make it clear that Wichita wants to hear their ideas and will implement them to make the city work for everyone.

What level of trust do you believe Wichita residents have in city government?

A little

In what situations, if any, is it more important to deliver results than to conduct city business using a transparent process?

Delivering results and being transparent are not mutually exclusive. When I sponsored the Bi-partisan Transparency Act in the Kansas Legislature, we received similar push back from the opponents of that legislation. However, once the new requirements became law, we were still able to make deals and those deals were better for the taxpayer. When deals are negotiated in the open, everyone is aware of promises made on both sides. Once it is clear to the public that expectations are set, it is much easier to hold every one on both sides accountable.

To what extent do you believe the mayor and council are well positioned to make important decisions about the city’s future, such as deciding the fate of Century II?

To some extent

What, if anything, would you do in office to maintain or increase the level of trust in Wichita’s city government?

I would increase the opportunities for engagement with the community using social media and technology. This should be a conversation and not just providing information. The consent agenda should not be used for anything that requires debate or exceeds a certain threshold, it creates an appearance of dishonesty and harms our credibility. Also, I would do away with no-bid contracts and require developers to disclose campaign contributions to city elected officials with their bid to increase transparency. It is also critical that we make the City’s expenses easy to review without requiring a KORA request. I would also require that persons or entities that receive City funds to agree to be subject to the Kansas Open Records Act so there is ongoing transparency and the ability for city officials to determine the return on investment of these opportunities.

Wichita City Council

Bryan Frye, candidate for Wichita City Council, District 5

Please provide a brief introduction and a description of why you are running for office.

Four years ago, I was elected to Wichita City Council to represent District. I pledged to help Wichita build a stronger economy, take better care of its infrastructure, prioritize public safety and improve our quality of life. We’ve been successful in all those areas, yet there is more work to be done.

Should you be elected, what is the single most important issue that you would like to see improvement on during your term in office? Please write a few sentences explaining your choice.

Great public spaces – parks, open spaces, museums, performing arts, etc. I’m passionate about pride-worthy public spaces and building a brighter future for the next generation.

As an office holder, how would you try to mobilize efforts to address the important issue you identified above? If you have a sense of specific steps you might take, please share those.

As a former member of the Wichita Park Board and Music Theatre of Wichita and current board member of Cowtown, Visit Wichita and Downtown Wichita, I understand the current environment of our public spaces and the need for improvements. I completely support the Riverfront Legacy master plan process for significant citizen engagement. Once complete, we just can’t leave the plan on a shelf somewhere. Implementing the community vision will take courage, dedication and follow-through.

What level of trust do you believe Wichita residents have in city government?

A moderate amount

In what situations, if any, is it more important to deliver results than to conduct city business using a transparent process?

Transparency is imperative. Only by working together can we make Wichita better. We can always improve our civic engagement and participation on issues district and citywide.

To what extent do you believe the mayor and council are well positioned to make important decisions about the city’s future, such as deciding the fate of Century II?

To a very great extent

What, if anything, would you do in office to maintain or increase the level of trust in Wichita’s city government?

We must improve our communication to citizens with more timely flow of information to social media and the press. Be proactive with details as soon as possible.

Mike Magness, candidate for Wichita City Council, District 5

Please provide a brief introduction and a description of why you are running for office.

I have taught and coached in the Wichita school district for about 20 years. During my career, I taught government classes. While teaching those classes, I told my students I would run for office one day. Now seems the right time for me for me to fulfill that promise. I think now a critical time for Wichita as we decide what direction we want the city to pursue. I have had the honor and privilege of teaching in Wichita and serving the community in that capacity. I would like to serve the city of Wichita, a city that has been great for me and my family, as a member of the City Council.

Should you be elected, what is the single most important issue that you would like to see improvement on during your term in office? Please write a few sentences explaining your choice.

I would like to see more of a focus on the day-to-day issues faced by our citizens. There has been a great emphasis on the downtown area. I want to make clear I think a strong downtown is important. I also think making the downtown area strong should not override dealing with the struggles faced by our families daily.

As an office holder, how would you try to mobilize efforts to address the important issue you identified above? If you have a sense of specific steps you might take, please share those.

I would first determine what are the most pressing issues facing families in District 5. I would do this by speaking with city leaders, business leaders, school district leaders (SEAS, Bishop Carroll, Wichita, Maize, Goddard, and Renwick school districts) and local churches to determine what are the issues facing our district. After these are determined, I would then develop a monthly “class” designed to educate and inform our citizens on the issues facing the community. I would call this class ICT U (as in “University”). It would be a great way to increase community engagement and foster the idea of being a lifelong learner.

What level of trust do you believe Wichita residents have in city government?

A moderate amount

In what situations, if any, is it more important to deliver results than to conduct city business using a transparent process?

Many citizens have voiced this concern to me, about what they perceive as a lack of transparency in city government. I think when negotiating with another party and they ask you to keep something “secret,” you have to consider their request. I would ask them why they feel this needs to be a “secret?” I would then communicate how important transparency is from our side and then allow them to respond. If they still want to keep that part of negotiations “secret,” then I would assess if their reason for keeping it secret was legitimate enough to relent to their request. Results are certainly important, but your negotiating partner better have a compelling reason to keep “secrets,” otherwise I would need to seriously consider dropping the negotiations. The criteria for a “compelling reason” would be extremely difficult to meet from my perspective. I would hope both sides would eventually see that transparency is the best option.

To what extent do you believe the mayor and council are well positioned to make important decisions about the city’s future, such as deciding the fate of Century II?

To a moderate extent

What, if anything, would you do in office to maintain or increase the level of trust in Wichita’s city government?

I would be as transparent as possible. I would actively engage our citizens for their input. I subscribe to the policy of “over communicating.” I think somebody saying “I know about this, you have told me five times this meeting is happening,” is far better than them saying “I did not know about this meeting.” I would work everyday to earn the trust the people of District 5. Trust is not earned by short term effort. I would intentionally work to make myself available to my constituents. I will listen to their concerns and do my best to address them, that I can promise to the people of District 5.

Becky Tuttle, candidate for Wichita City Council, District 2

Please provide a brief introduction and a description of why you are running for office.

I love Wichita and am proud to call it my home. I am committed to community service and driven to find ways to make Wichita even better. It has been an honor to serve our great City for the past seven months as a City Council Member and it would be my privilege to serve for the next four years. I am ready to lead forward.

Should you be elected, what is the single most important issue that you would like to see improvement on during your term in office? Please write a few sentences explaining your choice.

A vibrant city provides safe and healthy opportunities to live well – a quality place to live, learn, earn, play and pray. We must revitalize our entrepreneurial ecosystem – remain nimble to be reactive, yet proactive to reach our full potential with our “welcome mat” in full view as opportunity comes knocking. We must seek visionary and viable options for how we think Wichita should look in five, ten and twenty years from now.

As an office holder, how would you try to mobilize efforts to address the important issue you identified above? If you have a sense of specific steps you might take, please share those.

I currently have a District Advisory Board, representing 11 members of District 2. I also strategically seek input from homeowners associations, neighborhood associations, residents and business owners.

What level of trust do you believe Wichita residents have in city government?

A lot

In what situations, if any, is it more important to deliver results than to conduct city business using a transparent process?

We always use transparency. There are times when negotiating occurs and it must be “opaque”, but that is common in all business practices.

To what extent do you believe the mayor and council are well positioned to make important decisions about the city’s future, such as deciding the fate of Century II?

To a very great extent

What, if anything, would you do in office to maintain or increase the level of trust in Wichita’s city government?

My door and my mind are always open. I welcome any questions from any community member at any time.

Rodney Wren, candidate for Wichita City Council, District 2

Please provide a brief introduction and a description of why you are running for office.

As an educator in the fields of argumentation and persuasion – and debate coach – my daily job is to analyze policy options with an open mind and research all sides of various policies. I then am tasked with teaching high schoolers to set aside their biases and do the same thing. City Hall is in dire need of this kind of leadership instead of doing the bidding of the wealthy and “elite” members of our community.

Should you be elected, what is the single most important issue that you would like to see improvement on during your term in office? Please write a few sentences explaining your choice.

No more corporate welfare and cronyism for so-called “public-private partnerships.” Reform the criminal justice system to the greatest extent possible in order to reduce the racial and socio-economic disparity of our prison population.

As an office holder, how would you try to mobilize efforts to address the important issue you identified above? If you have a sense of specific steps you might take, please share those.

If I can’t persuade other city leaders, I’ll appeal directly to the voters to demand action on the above items.

What level of trust do you believe Wichita residents have in city government?

A little

In what situations, if any, is it more important to deliver results than to conduct city business using a transparent process?

None; unless it’s a matter of imminent threat or emergency due to a threat from insurrection, rebellion, or natural disaster.

To what extent do you believe the mayor and council are well positioned to make important decisions about the city’s future, such as deciding the fate of Century II?

Not at all

What, if anything, would you do in office to maintain or increase the level of trust in Wichita’s city government?

Make sure all decisions are thoroughly vetted and brought before the citizenry for their comment.

The Journal did not receive responses to its survey from Wichita City Council, District 2, candidate Joseph Brian Scapa.

Jeff Blubaugh, candidate for Wichita City Council, District 4

Please provide a brief introduction and a description of why you are running for office.

I am running for reelection because I believe Wichita is the greatest city in our state to work, live and raise a family.

Should you be elected, what is the single most important issue that you would like to see improvement on during your term in office? Please write a few sentences explaining your choice.

I have always thought job and the local economy was the most important issue; I now think providing education and training for those positions is equally as important.

As an office holder, how would you try to mobilize efforts to address the important issue you identified above? If you have a sense of specific steps you might take, please share those.

We have worked closely with WSU, Friends University, Newman, and WSU tech to ensure we continue to be on track to meet the requirements of job providers.

What level of trust do you believe Wichita residents have in city government?

A moderate amount

In what situations, if any, is it more important to deliver results than to conduct city business using a transparent process?

Transparency is the key to establishing trust. Only during the time of a negotiation when the city is not legally able to provide details is the only time full transparency could not be exercised such as during an executive session.

To what extent do you believe the mayor and council are well positioned to make important decisions about the city’s future, such as deciding the fate of Century II?

To a great extent

What, if anything, would you do in office to maintain or increase the level of trust in Wichita’s city government?

Continue messaging and openness so the public has the same information as the council.

Christopher Parisho, candidate for Wichita City Council, District 4

Please provide a brief introduction and a description of why you are running for office.

I am a native Kansan born in Wichita. I’ve lived in District 4 for 12 years, and over that time I’ve become active with my community and the city as a whole. I’m an alumni of 3 KLC courses, and the Wichita Civic Engagement Academy (which started thanks to KLC and the Kansas Health Foundation). I am currently the President of my Neighborhood Association in Delano, the Treasurer of Delano United (the Delano Community Development Cooperation), a member of Love Your Community, and on the Coalition ICT communications team. I’m running for office to be a voice of the people on city council. Too many people these days feel as if the city and their elected leaders are disconnected from the people they represent and serve. I want to help change that dynamic and hopefully improve the people’s opinion of our city and their elected officials.

Should you be elected, what is the single most important issue that you would like to see improvement on during your term in office? Please write a few sentences explaining your choice.

Transparency, communication, fiscal responsibility, and proper priorities are the main focus of my campaign.

As an office holder, how would you try to mobilize efforts to address the important issue you identified above? If you have a sense of specific steps you might take, please share those.

Developing ways for the people to better learn of the issues before the city with enough time to study them and provide feedback about them so that I and others can best represent their interests.

What level of trust do you believe Wichita residents have in city government?

A moderate amount

In what situations, if any, is it more important to deliver results than to conduct city business using a transparent process?

I think transparency is the most important. Without it, people lose trust in government and once trust is lost then they start believing that government is corrupt and only interested in its own agenda.

To what extent do you believe the mayor and council are well positioned to make important decisions about the city’s future, such as deciding the fate of Century II?

To some extent

What, if anything, would you do in office to maintain or increase the level of trust in Wichita’s city government?

As I described above, transparency and communication. Doing things in a rushed or last minute fashion, or sneaking things past the process that is in place needs to stop.

Beckie Jenek, candidate for Wichita City Council, District 4

Please provide a brief introduction and a description of why you are running for office.

I am a small business consultant and lifelong resident of the Wichita metro area. I attended our area public schools, and have focused on small business accounting and operations management for the last 20 years; recently, I began specializing in the renewable energy industry. I have been an active member of the community through neighborhood associations, non-profit board management, church, and the local theatre community. I’m running to put an end to the stranglehold that politics as usual has put on Wichita’s future. By standing up to City Hall insiders, I know we can live up to our full potential.

Should you be elected, what is the single most important issue that you would like to see improvement on during your term in office? Please write a few sentences explaining your choice.

I want to see Wichita transform from “a great place to be from” to “a great place to live.” We have to address the exodus of our young people once they’ve been trained and/or educated. The most critical obstacle to that right now is our city’s image and attitude. We have to recognize that by and large, to the people leaving our city and prospective businesses relocating, Wichita comes across as unwelcoming and unfriendly, that Wichita is set in its ways and out of touch with reality.

I feel our local elected officials constantly reinforce that negative image/attitude problem. We have elected officials defending meager growth which is well under what comparable cities have seen. We have a very critical issue with our water from decades of delayed maintenance – meanwhile they’re touting budget surpluses. We’re investing tens of millions for a stadium larger than the previous one we had trouble filling. Increasingly, they pass these resolutions via consent agenda, effectively eliminating the chance for any public discussion or opposition.

As an office holder, how would you try to mobilize efforts to address the important issue you identified above? If you have a sense of specific steps you might take, please share those.

In addition to fighting against “politics as usual,” the city needs to take a proactive role in boosting it’s image. I think that begins by taking a stand and declaring that bigotry has no home here with a comprehensive Non-Discrimination Ordinance. Next I think more people need a direct voice in government, it’s time to bring back citizen’s advisory boards for: Health and Human Wellness; Poverty; Veterans Affairs; Racial Relations; Civil Rights; Women’s Issues; Youth; and LGBTQ+ Issues. Finally, I think we need to create a city work culture that values employee feedback and has an open door policy between all employees. We should incentivize any feedback resulting in cost savings and deter retribution in the work environment.

What level of trust do you believe Wichita residents have in city government?

A little

In what situations, if any, is it more important to deliver results than to conduct city business using a transparent process?

Never, city business should always be done in a transparent fashion.

To what extent do you believe the mayor and council are well positioned to make important decisions about the city’s future, such as deciding the fate of Century II?

To some extent

What, if anything, would you do in office to maintain or increase the level of trust in Wichita’s city government?

I think it starts by being present at neighborhood events and making myself available. I am interested in talking with constituents directly, with an open door policy.  I don’t want there to be any miscommunications with my constituents. Second, I will not vote for any proposal or ordinance, via consent agenda, while there is organized opposition – each person deserves to have their voice on the record. Third, I think internally the city needs to demonstrate that same open door policy for all of our community by bringing back advisory boards to address: Health and Human Wellness; Poverty; Veterans Affairs; Racial Relations; Civil Rights; Women’s Issues; Youth; and LGBTQ+ Issues. Finally I think the city needs to promote that same open door policy, internally, and incentivize budget saving opportunities presented by employees of any level, and put an end to the fear of retaliation that is currently prevalent.

Related coverage of Wichita Mayor and City Council campaigns:

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