Sedgwick County Commissioner Karl Peterjohn and challenger David Dennis clashed Thursday over the Sedgwick County Zoo and the county’s relationship with the city of Wichita.
The two Republican candidates spoke before members of the Wichita Crime Commission in one of their last debates before the primary election Tuesday.
Peterjohn, who has represented western Sedgwick County since 2009, touted the county’s role in things like pretrial services and mental health court – a specialized court that boosts communication between the mental health and criminal justice systems – to avoid a costly expansion of the Sedgwick County jail.
“My goal is to try and keep this community safe at as reasonable a cost as possible,” Peterjohn said. “All those programs helped keep the jail population down and bend that cost curve that had been a huge problem for this community.”
People went to the County Commission to speak on the budget and I don’t believe their concerns were heard.
Sedgwick County challenger David Dennis
Dennis, a retired Air Force colonel and former state education board chairman, said he was greatly concerned about county commissioners not listening to residents, citing last summer’s budget cycle.
“People went to the county commission to speak on the budget and I don’t believe their concerns were heard,” Dennis said.
Here’s a glance at other issues they talked about:
Zoo funding, negotiations
The Sedgwick County Zoo was the subject of several audience questions. Peterjohn said the county does not have adequate representation on the zoo board.
“If we’re providing 40 percent of the funds, I think having less than 10 percent of the representation is inadequate,” Peterjohn
“Because we’re elected, we’re responsible for the taxpayers’ purse. … And we had a little dustup a couple centuries ago with taxation without representation,” Peterjohn said. “I’m not necessarily saying that we need to add seats, but like any business, we do need more authority.”
Because we’re elected, we’re responsible for the taxpayers’ purse. ... And we had a little dustup a couple centuries ago with taxation without representation…I’m not necessarily saying that we need to add seats, but like any business, we do need more authority.
Sedgwick County Commissioner Karl Peterjohn
Dennis has criticized a Sedgwick County proposal that would boost the county’s voting power on the zoo board by tying the voting representation to the county’s revenue contribution.
“The nice thing about the zoo board is we bring in leaders in our community … and they go out and find the funding to build things,” Dennis said. “If you start alienating those folks, then we’re going to lose the key supporters that we have.”
“I do not believe we need to change an agreement that has worked well for 40, 45 years,” he said.
Dennis said he’ll work to improve relations with the city of Wichita, citing his friendships with Mayor Jeff Longwell and other City Council members.
“There’s a wall down Central between Sedgwick County and Wichita,” Dennis. “I believe that we need to build bridges.”
Peterjohn said the city and the county worked together to approve a new law enforcement training center at Wichita State University recently.
“We are working together and trying to cooperate,” he said. “And I know there are differences. We were all elected by different folks.”
Sheriff’s office turnover
Dennis complimented commissioners for trying to address turnover in some county departments like the sheriff’s office.
“They’re looking at some ways to help bridge that gap so we’re not losing great sheriff’s officers that are going over to a more well-paying job over in the (Wichita) police department,” Dennis said.
Turnover has been an ongoing challenge since he joined the commission, Peterjohn said.
“I would like to try and avoid having a bidding war across Central Avenue for law enforcement officers,” Peterjohn said. “But I think we can have a discussion in terms of what’s an appropriate level of pay.”