Incumbent Janet Miller and challenger Marty Mork want to keep Wichita a vibrant community, but their approaches differ.
Both candidates for Wichita City Council in District 6, which covers central and west-central Wichita, hold a strong connection to the city. Both want to see jobs and industries come to Wichita and flourish here.
But they have different ideas on how to handle growth, public transportation and taxes.
“We need a high quality of life, well-trained and well-educated workers,” said Miller, 48, who has served on the council for four years. She said incentives should be “part of the mix” in attracting employers but said she considers them “the icing on the cake.”
“We have been working to diversify our industry,” she said. In addition to aviation, Miller hopes Wichita will expand more into technology, health care and biomedical industries.
Mork, 49, said the way to create an attractive climate for new business is to lower taxes. He is focusing on bringing in grain industry manufacturers like cereal companies.
“I believe if taxes are lower that will put money in people’s hands and the people of Wichita can use that money and spend it,” Mork said. “The more money that people have in their pockets is what will help grow the economy. Because Wichita has low taxes, businesses will come in. It’s a win-win situation.”
Miller won 79 percent of the vote in the district in the Feb. 26 primary. Mork got 10 percent of the vote to edge out third-place finisher Richard Stephenson, who had 9 percent.
Miller is married to Kansas Rep. Nile Dillmore. She is a Manhattan-born Kansas native who has lived in District 6 for 26 years. She has an education degree from Kansas State University.
Mork is a Wichita native. Soon after a work-related accident left him with severe injuries to his legs, he became disabled from rheumatoid arthritis and had to use a wheelchair for two years. Also, because this father of five dropped out of school after the ninth grade, he said he understands the plight of both the working man and people with disabilities.
He served a two-year probation period after a 1992 Sedgwick County felony conviction for attempted possession of marijuana with intent to sell. In 2001, he was found guilty in Wichita’s municipal court of an amended misdemeanor charge of possession of drug paraphernalia, according to court records. The arrest came after a routine traffic stop.
Mork said he took a plea bargain for the first offense.
“In 1992, I was arrested with four ounces of marijuana; they figured I was going to sell it,” he said, adding that he did not intend to sell it. “In 2001,” he said, “I had less than ¼ of a marijuana cigarette in my ashtray.”
Mork said he does not have a pro-marijuana agenda.
Mork said the city needs to re-evaluate where it spends its money. He questions spending on a new library, the Ambassador Hotel, the airport and bicycle paths.
“If that money was in the people’s hands and was spinning the economy, I believe that the economy would be doing much better,” said Mork, has run for both mayor and U.S. Congress twice. “I believe that the city government is wastefully spending the people’s money.”
Miller disagrees. She said the city would not be able to hold current businesses and attract new ones without putting money into bettering the community.
“We need to provide reasons for them to come here,” she said. Bicycle paths, arts and cultural opportunities, recreation facilities and an up-to-date library with meeting rooms will play an important role in making Wichita a vibrant community, she said. She cited the new airport terminal as an example of helping both residents and businesses. Miller said the old terminal had limitations in being able to recruit airlines.
Both candidates say public transportation is essential for a thriving community.
Miller said the system must be expanded. She mentioned percentages of property taxes, sales taxes and fuel charges as possible funding for the service but said people need to say how they want to maintain public transportation.
Mork is concerned about the planned eight bus shelters on Douglas Avenue.
“They will cost $50,000 each,” Mork said. “We need to stop wasteful spending.”
The city received a grant of a little more than $1 million from the Federal Transit Administration for the shelters, bicycle parking and sidewalk repair. The council was asked to pay for 20 percent of the cost.
Miller does not see the shelters as wasteful. She said that young professionals look to public transportation as a sign of a vibrant downtown. The shelters, which will be part of a downtown loop that encompasses area attractions from the Orpheum to the arena to Century II, will have signs that local businesses can advertise on. The fees generated by these advertisements will go back into city funds.