Sedgwick County Commission challenger Hugh Nicks says he wants to avoid public fights over county issues, while incumbent Commissioner Richard Ranzau says he thinks matters should be hashed out in public for the sake of transparency.
The two Republicans face each other in the August primary for the seat representing parts of northwest Wichita and several suburban cities including Park City, Valley Center and Maize.
They met in their first face-to-face debate Friday at the Wichita Pachyderm Club.
In response to an audience member’s question about handling dissenting viewpoints in the commission, Nicks lamented “divisive behavior” at meetings, one of his key arguments for challenging the outspoken Ranzau.
Nicks said that elected officials ought to act more like businessmen, taking disagreements behind closed doors and away from the public eye.
“In our business, when we had closed-door meetings, when we argued about how we were going to move forward in our business, we didn't go out in front of our employees afterwards and act the same way that we did back behind closed doors," he said.
Ranzau countered Nicks’ remarks, saying public business should be discussed in public.
“There are some things that need to be discussed openly and honestly in public for accountability and transparency reasons,” Ranzau said. “We can't pretend that everything's hunky-dory when it's not."
The winner in the Aug. 7 primary will face one of two Democrats running — former Wichita school board member Michael Kinard or hospice consultant and activist Lacey Cruse — in the Nov. 6 general election.
Nicks, a retired marketing executive, compared Sedgwick County constituents to business customers and said it sends the wrong message when commissioners fight in public.
“We wouldn't act that way in front of our customers,” he said. “If we did, we wouldn't have any customers.”
Ranzau criticized Nicks for close ties to the Wichita Regional Chamber of Commerce and downtown business interests. Ranzau says those groups get too much in public subsidies and exert too much influence on local government.
"There are certain entities, I'm telling you, they want 100 percent obedience and no dissent or you will be targeted," Ranzau said. “There reaches a threshold in which I, as a commissioner, cannot remain silent. And I have to speak to my constituents and to the people.”
Nicks said he's proud of having worked for the chamber when he was a young man and the friends he's made in decades as a local businessman.
"I have been accused of having a lot of cronies," he said. "I tell my friends that they're no longer friends, that they are cronies now."