Regardless of who wins in the November elections, the Sedgwick County Commission should be a much different body next year. Hooray.
This change was already apparent during a candidate forum Saturday at the Wichita Central Library. Three candidates – Tim Norton, the four-term Democratic incumbent in District 2, and Republican David Dennis and independent Marcey Gregory in District 3 – spoke about making the commission less ideological and more responsive to the community.
Regrettably, Norton’s GOP challenger, Michael O’Donnell, chose not to attend the forum, claiming that the organization hosting it – Women for Kansas – was biased against him. But he also is arguing that “the status quo at the county is not working” (though it is unclear how much O’Donnell supports the current majority).
One important change in the new commission should be improved relations with the Wichita City Council. All three of the candidates at the forum have excellent working relationships with City Council members.
Gregory, who is mayor of Goddard, spoke of the importance of partnerships, both with the city of Wichita and with other cities and towns in the county. Dennis, who defeated Commissioner Karl Peterjohn in the GOP primary, said his goal was to build a bridge between the two governments.
Norton was correct in noting that he is “not the problem” with the strained city/county relationship. (It’s the current commission majority – Peterjohn, Richard Ranzau and Jim Howell.)
The candidates also want to revisit some the budget cuts that many people protested last year. All three emphasized the importance of quality-of-life issues and public health. The candidates also disagreed with the shift to paying cash for road and bridge projects.
Dennis said bonding was an important tool and that the move to cash-only created self-inflicted budget problems.
Norton said Sedgwick County has an excellent credit rating and should be investing in solving long-term problems, such as drainage.
“It is just crazy to take the course we are taking,” he said.
The next commission also likely will spend less time on state and national issues and political grandstanding. For example, Gregory said it was “pointless and useless” for the current majority to argue about whether illegal immigrants should be part of the federal Women, Infants and Children program. As Dennis said, “These issues are not Sedgwick County issues.”
Dennis also noted that it seems as if the current majority makes up its mind on issues – based on a rigid libertarian perspective – before it hears from the public. And then they argue with those who voice a different view.
“I will listen to the citizens,” he said. The other two candidates said the same.
That alone would be a big and welcome change.