Former Wichita City Council member Paul Gray is busy. But not too busy to soften his stance against a full term on the council.
Gray, one of four candidates seeking to temporarily fill Michael O’Donnell’s unexpired two-year term on the City Council, said Thursday his construction business is growing as the local economy awakens from a four-year slumber. His family is growing. And the time he’s got to spend in his old seat on the City Council bench is shrinking.
But not enough that the two-term council member is unwilling to listen to community members and council members he says would like him back on the bench to finish all – not just part – of O’Donnell’s term representing District 4 in south and west Wichita until spring 2015. O’Donnell won the District 25 Kansas Senate seat in November.
On Jan. 8, the council will choose a temporary replacement for O’Donnell until the April elections. The District 4 Advisory Board will interview the candidates at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Lionel Alford Branch Library, 3447 S. Meridian. Others seeking the temporary appointment are former council member Stan Reeser, Joshua Blick and Wichita real estate broker Jeff Blubaugh.
Gray is stepping back from his statements in early December that he’s not interested in running in April for the remaining two years of the term if the council appoints him as an interim representative.
“I’ve certainly heard from people in the community who want me to run,” Gray said. “And I haven’t talked to the people on the council about it, so if there are some who feel that way, then yeah, I’d certainly listen to them out of respect.”
Gray said precedent – the council’s longtime preference that the interim member not gain an incumbency advantage going into the general election – and the pressures of running a building business and raising three kids, including an infant, led him to declare earlier this month that he wouldn’t seek the permanent seat.
“I felt like three months during the winter was a reasonable time to move things around,” he said. “But a lot of people have asked. And I’m not one to close doors completely.”
Vice Mayor Janet Miller and council member Pete Meitzner said Thursday they’re unaware – and unsupportive – of any such precedent.
Miller said the precedent may have been coined by former council member Jim Skelton, who insisted on a promise from his temporary replacement Roger Smith not to seek the full term when Skelton left the council in 2010 for the Sedgwick County Commission bench. James Clendenin ultimately won Skelton’s council seat.
“If an appointee wants to run in five months, they should,” Meitzner said. “So be it. I’m indifferent to that.”
Gray served two four-year terms on the council, from 2003 to 2011, before stepping aside because of term limits. But since a council election has been held since then, he’s again eligible to run in the spring.