One of the primary issues that is going unaddressed in our district is our ongoing mental health crisis. Decades ago we decentralized mental health care, moving away from state hospitals and leaving county and local government to pick up the slack. Unfortunately, due to lack of support in the budgeting process we never did, and the cold indifference of our decisions have led us to a point where families who seek treatment for their loved ones have very few workable options on the table.
When out knocking doors, I constantly hear heartbreaking tales about loved ones dealing with mental health issues. It has affected countless families across our district, regardless of political beliefs, race, or religion. The benefits from funding real solutions would help lower the crime rate, increase public safety, and ensure that every family would have access to help in their struggles.
When asked about the issues that keep me up at night, sex trafficking always is at the top of my list. Unfortunately, our district has a long, sordid history with this issue along the south Broadway corridor. Many of the sex workers are former runaways who fled physical, emotional, and sexual abuse at home, or underage children who were groomed by preying men and women looking to exploit them. Others have mental health/addiction issues and need treatment. They should be treated as people who need help escaping this cycle of abuse instead of criminals. Those who profit, whether the pimp, the John, or the owner of the establishments where this is knowingly happening, need to face the full extent of consequences of their actions. Our Police Department has come a long way in how they deal with sex workers. I commend them for their forward thinking, and look forward to a continued dialogue about how we can end the sex trade for good in our community.
If you live on the southside, our homeless issue is staring you in the face every single day. On street corners, under bridges, camped out by the river. People who need a hand up, often who have mental health issues beyond their control, or addiction issues. Runaways. Veterans. The issue will not go away with cold, compassionless approaches to the problem. We need to deal with the issue in a humane way.
Fortunately there are many great organizations in Wichita who specialize in just that. Their collaborative efforts, including the purchase of the 316 Hotel using City directed federal funds and redeveloping it to a homeless shelter, are helping people get back on their feet in a long term and meaningful way. There are other new and interesting proposals being tried around the country, from mini-homes being built to shelter the homeless to improved mental health and addiction treatments that aim to keep people from becoming homeless to begin with. We need to keep our eyes and ears open for policies that work, and not be afraid to try new and inventive ideas that show promise.
Ethics reform is a hot issue at this time in our city, and for good reason. Our government can only be as clean and honorable as the people elected to serve. To help ensure a cleaner, better form of government, a solid ethics plan should be expanded to include-
- A ban on PAC money in local elections. Any serious candidate is forced to play by the free and loose rules regarding political funds that push the agendas of big money donors, lobbyists, and corporations instead of the people
- A non-partisan ethics review board, with real powers, with broad enough support, remove public officials from their position for violations of ethics rules
Unfortunately for our district, the reason this is such a hot issue right now hits a little close to home. If I get the privilege of serving the 3rd District, I will serve with integrity. It’s what you deserve.
Businesses all around the world have taken quite a hit recently, and that includes here at home. As we try to dig our way out of the aftermath of Covid-19, we need to set policies that will help attract good paying jobs to the district as well as stimulate the local economy, so we can all get back on our feet. Here are a few ways we can make our policies work for the hard-working people of the 3rd district.
- Keep our best resources in the city: our people. We have the privilege of several quality colleges in Wichita. To keep students around after they graduate we need to provide a lifestyle that appeals to them and attracts other families. That starts with well-paying jobs and a robust city with many different entertainment options. The low cost of living in Wichita is a benefit, but lifestyle counts for a lot to younger people.
- Increased infrastructure improvements. We all benefit from improvements to our city’s roads and bridges, and more job opportunities for blue collared workers means higher competition and higher pay across the board.
- Utilize IRB’s (internal revenue bonds) and EDX’s (economic development exemptions). These bonds are in place to encourage a new or existing business to take advantage of existing infrastructure like warehouses and machinery, attracting new working-class jobs to the area to replace those who have closed-down or relocated.
- Encourage businesses to take advantage of Opportunity Zones through education and advertisement. We have two in our district, one along the South Broadway Corridor and another just south of Kellogg between Oliver and Hydraulic. Businesses can receive tax exemptions for moving or opening-up in these districts.
- Create an equal playing field for the 3rd district. Right now, tax benefits aren’t being applied fairly throughout the city. We have 14 community improvement districts across the city that support local businesses, and not one is in the 3rd district. Tif’s are being applied liberally throughout the city, and STAR bonds are being used in affluent areas instead of communities that need them. Until our policies are applied in a more equitable way, we will remain behind when it comes to economic improvement. I will fight for these policies, just as I will fight on every issue south Wichitans care about.
When it comes to the city’s transportation needs, we need to keep our demographics and resources in mind and not just jump on board the next big, exciting proposal that pops up. With gas cheaper here than in most of the country, and the ability to hop in your car and get anywhere in Wichita in 20 minutes, it’s plain to see that we are a commuter city at heart.
Instead of a massive plan for a customer base that just isn’t there, we need to focus on providing well maintained basic services for those who need public transportation. This includes improving bus routes to make travel easier and more affordable, providing specialized routes on certain days for needs like grocery shopping, redirecting funds to serve their basic needs, and spending smartly on improvements like new electric buses that will cut costs in the future.
Food scarcity and a lack of access to healthy, nutritious food is increasingly becoming a vital issue. Small market grocery stores are rapidly dying out and large market stores are shuttering their doors in low-income neighborhoods due to “profit” concerns. In fact, most of the 3rd district is officially deemed a Food Desert by the USDA, meaning they are more than a half mile from access to any real type of food. While we can’t compel private businesses to move in the district, there are things we can do as a city to help alleviate the burden many disabled, elderly, and low-income people face in filling one of their basic needs.
- Subsidize rideshare programs for people on disability. Several rideshare businesses have partnered with cities to provide discounted rides to the grocery store for people on assistance. Using grants and city funds, we can help alleviate the costs for people already struggling.
- Tax exemptions for stores who want to move into the area. Special tax exemptions should be used just for this purpose; the betterment of the community and helping residents in need.
- Educate communities on funding for local business/co-op. State funded community block grants and other sources of funding are available for groups who put together well thought out plans to address these types of issues. Community owned grocery stores have been used in many places around the country to help fight hunger and provide affordable, nutritious food.
- Streamline the process for community gardens and farmers markets. Creating a process that would open community gardens throughout our neighborhoods, and providing assistance with access to waterlines and funding will allow residents to take the matter into their own hands. Encouraging Farmers Markets to open or rotate throughout the community will help provide partial relief in some form. Waiving Farmers Market fees for community gardens to sell their produce will also make the food more affordable for the community while bringing revenue into our struggling neighborhoods.
- Work with master food plan and hunger advocates. There are many fine groups and individuals who have selflessly spent their time organizing around this issue, from ICT Fridge and ICT Food Rescue to the Kansas Food Bank, and giving them the support they need will go a long way to finding community based solutions.
I’m a good government guy at heart, and as such I believe in reforming all departments of government in order to make sure they’re doing what they’re supposed to do. We owe it to taxpayers to be good stewards of their money, and we owe it to our citizens to faithfully execute the duties they have trusted the government to undertake.
There has been a major push across the nation for examining the way the police have interacted with those they are charged to protect and serve, and with good reasons. We can, and should, engage in the debate about the proper responses to certain situations, especially in relation to communities of color, or situations when de-escalation and providing alternate resources are appropriate.
I believe we have a police chief who gets it. Since Gordon Ramsey became the chief of police, we have seen a change in how the department responds to homelessness with the homeless outreach program that directs people in need to facilities who can help, mental health issues with the ICT1 program embedding social workers and paramedics with police units to respond to people having a mental health crisis and addiction issues, and sex trafficking with new policies in place to help sex workers safely leave their former lives behind while cracking down on those who exploit them.
Of course, we cannot rest on our department’s laurels. We must constantly hold the departments feet to the fire to ensure officers with a history of complaints and domestic violence are removed from the streets, and we need to ensure that officers are held accountable for their abuses of power and unnecessary uses of force. Chief Ramsey has shown he is a committed to providing a safer community that serves everybody. I encourage everyone to engage in the conversation as to how we can accomplish that goal.
Revitalizing our neighborhoods/Blight
Our district holds some of the oldest neighborhoods in Wichita, and along with their rich history come aging houses and buildings that can easily fall into disrepair. When out knocking doors this last winter, neighborhood blight was one issue that I heard quite frequently, and for good reason. I saw firsthand the abandoned houses, broken windows, and yards that looked like small landfills.
The first thing we can do to address neighborhood blight is enforce the codes. This means ensuring that the city inspectors are committed to their work and pushing to hire enough inspectors to operate efficiently. Alternate solutions should be found to help address violations before we jump straight into fining homeowners, but absentee landlords/slumlords need to be held accountable. Low-income housing and rentals are a good thing for communities unless they are not ran properly.
The city provides businesses with grants to help with exterior improvements and lead removal. These programs should be expanded to include those who are on assistance or live in low-income neighborhoods, as well as tax breaks for renters who want to purchase the home they have been living in for prolonged periods of time, allowing for continuity with residents and encouraging pride in the upkeep of their neighborhoods. Capping property taxes for the elderly and disabled who have lived in their homes for more than 10 years in low-income neighborhoods can help aid in this as well.
Century 2, Downtown Revitalization Plan
The writing is on the wall, we can’t afford expensive new projects in the near future. Right now, we need to focus our limited revenue on our basic needs; people who need help, people who are still struggling with the aftermath of the pandemic, people who are still out of work. Another expensive attempt at revitalizing downtown should not be in the cards right now, especially in regards to demolishing Century II. That iconic building has been part of the city skyline for decades. It’s a link to the past that we need in a rapidly changing world. I would be hesitant to support any new performance arts center or convention center when we’ve already shown we can’t be good stewards of the one we have. If another location and alternate sources of funding could be found it would be worth a discussion; however the plan that is being presented is a hard pill for the residents of District 3 to swallow.
It’s getting harder to find affordable housing in Wichita. Rent payments are more expensive than what a person would be paying on a mortgage on a small house, and with a growing wage gap the price of living in Wichita is taking a larger percentage of working peoples income, leaving little behind for other needs and leisure. Capping property taxes for the elderly and disabled in low-income neighborhoods will help keep people in their houses and preserve a neighborhood’s identity, alleviating the negative aspects of revitalizing a community and fighting gentrification. Cracking down on absentee landlords and slumlords who provide substandard living conditions and neglect upkeep on their properties will help improve the overall appearance and safety of our neighborhoods.
How we treat public employees is indicative of the type of community we want. Women and men work hard every day providing our basic services and often putting their lives on the line to protect us, including Firemen, Police Officers, and Paramedics. The least we can do is ensure public employees a living wage with benefits and job protections, such as providing sufficient funding for fully staffed departments, whistleblower protections, and a fair, clean grievance process.
Right now we have a Fire Department that is understaffed, creating a dangerous situation in a job that relies on the availability of backup. Many stationhouses have structural issues and health hazards. Our first responders deserve better than this.
Our city government also seems to be in a hurry to privatize city services where they can, such as hiring an outside company to run Century II. As soon as we can afford it we need to rehire those city workers laid off, and also ensure that the new water plant will be run by city employees, removing barriers from accountability and providing well-paying jobs with benefits to the community. If we truly want a safe and functional city, we need to make sure we provide the funding for it. Like the old saying goes, "you get what you pay for!"
It is imperative that we expand the current anti-discrimination ordinance to include protections for military service, sexual orientation, and gender identity. If we are truly going to be the safe community we all desire, we must show that everyone is valued and protected in our city. Not only is it the right thing to do morally, but it will also open the door for businesses who will not consider expanding in cities where those protections are not extended. There can be no true justice unless it is extended to every single person.
We’re experiencing a generational shift when it comes to participation in Neighborhood Associations. A majority of the registered Associations in the district were barely functioning as it was, and that was before the pandemic changed how we operate. While Neighborhood Associations have played a vital role in our city in the past, we need to reassess how they operate in order to appeal to a new generations' values and expectations.
One neighborhood in South Wichita has been working for some time to put forth their own vision. The South Central Neighborhood Association, or SoCo, has dedicated themselves to re-establishing face-to-face communication with their neighbors. Together they have drawn up an extensive long-term plan to improve their community. From safety measures such as improving lighting and improvements with police relations to canvassing their neighbors and assessing their needs, earnest efforts have provided promising results. Every neighborhood around Wichita should be encouraged to draw up a similar proposal that fits the needs of their surroundings. The only way we’re going to change anything on a real level is by coming together under a shared goal.