Maureta Morrill had never been involved in politics before she helped Jim Skelton's campaign put together 1,750 yard signs, one by one.
Morrill got to know the Wichita City Council member this past spring. She doesn't live in Skelton's city district but she does live in Sedgwick County's District 5 in the southern part of the county. Skelton, a Republican, is hoping to unseat Gwen Welshimer, a Democrat who represents the district now.
"The reason I got involved in this was when I moved to Wichita, I knew I wasn't in his district, but he answered my calls," Morrill said. "When you talk to Jim, he finds out what he can do."
Skelton, 42, says his top skill as a public official is his commitment to customer service — returning calls to constituents and finding solutions to their problems.
"I have established a communicative structure within the way I operate," Skelton said. "I have 100,000 customers out there, and that's how I think of them. It's them I'm serving. I'm the guy who's the man in the seat but it's about the community."
That has crossed district — and city — boundaries, he said.
As a former chairman of the Sedgwick County Association of Cities, Skelton said he has worked well with cities across the county and has "insight into what these people need from the county and want and expect from the county.
"I'm excited to work with the city councils of different cities and the citizens of different cities. I'll have a very diverse population to represent."
Commissioners make $83,718 a year. During the most recent campaign finance period, which ended July 22, Skelton raised $19,517.
Taxes, incentives, jail
Skelton is in his second term as a council member.
He owns Hendrickson Painting Co. and says as a small-business owner with three to five employees, "raising taxes is out of the question. It's not an option at this time. I support stopping any tax increases on property valuations. ... We're in a down economy and we just can't keep getting more from people."
Welshimer has been critical of Skelton's support of tax increment financing districts and other incentives for businesses, particularly those downtown.
Skelton said government has a responsibility to create an environment in which businesses can grow.
"The whole truth is we have cost-benefit analyses before we engage in any of these things," he said of economic development incentives.
One of the key differences between Skelton and Welshimer is their take on how to control the inmate population at the jail.
Welshimer is against building onto the jail, saying the county should build on alternative programs that appear to be working to slow overcrowding.
Skelton has said he recognizes that an expansion or new jail likely will be necessary at some point. He advocates building a minimum- or medium-security facility that could be operated for less than a maximum-security jail.
Skelton points to the 47th Street South bridge over I-135 and a fire station on the south side as two of his biggest accomplishments on the City Council.
He said he worked hard to bring better fire coverage to the south side.
Skelton said he looks forward to problem-solving for the county.
One way he wants to reach out to residents is forming district advisory boards similar to those the city has in place.
The boards would encourage and take citizen opinion on issues the commission faces.
Skelton said he is concerned that the current county commission seems unable to work toward consensus.
"Just go ask the people at City Hall about what my workability is," he said. "We can disagree but put things aside."
Skelton said that as a public official, he seeks to not fall "into the trap of getting mad and staying mad."
"There's no consensus over there," Skelton said of the County Commission. "That in my opinion is a leadership issue. Decisions need to be made at the county; leadership needs to take place."