Wichita City Council candidates (from left) Jared Cerullo, Cindy Claycomb, Brandon Johnson, Mike Hoheisel and Maggie Ballard. (Photos provided courtesy of candidates)
Wichita City Council candidates (from left) Jared Cerullo, Cindy Claycomb, Brandon Johnson, Mike Hoheisel and Maggie Ballard. (Photos provided courtesy of candidates)

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This fall, six candidates are vying for three seats on the Wichita City Council. 

In District 3, incumbent Jared Cerullo faces Mike Hoheisel, while District 6 incumbent Cindy Claycomb is running against Maggie Ballard. The challengers in both races received the most votes in their Aug. 3 primaries. 

In District 1, incumbent Brandon Johnson contends with challenger Myron Ackerman. The two did not have a primary.

In preparation for the Nov. 2 election — early voting begins Oct. 18 — The Wichita Beacon surveyed City Council candidates on questions we heard were important to readers. Check out their responses below:

What specific steps would you take to make the City Council more accessible and transparent to Wichita residents who want to participate in local government?

What is the proper role of economic development incentives, such as tax increment financing, sales tax and revenue bonds and industrial revenue bonds, in Wichita’s future? 

Many of the poorest communities in Wichita today are the same ones that were redlined decades ago. What role should the city play in reversing the impacts of historic inequities and underinvestment? 

Should the structure of Wichita’s city government be changed, such as the Council-Manager form of government or the nonpartisan election of council members? 

What specific steps would you take to make the City Council more accessible and transparent to Wichita residents who want to participate in local government?

Brandon Johnson (District 1)

Transparency is key to the success of public service. In order to continue improving transparency, I would build upon the success I have had in pushing to reach our citizens where they are. Once elected, I began the process of livestreaming our District Advisory Board and Monthly Breakfast meetings for those who could not make it in person. This has had some great impact, and I will continue to look for better ways to engage the citizenry directly to hear real thoughts from everyday citizens who want their voices heard in local government.

Myron Ackerman (District 1)

Did not respond

Jared Cerullo (District 3) 

The city of Wichita is open and transparent. Anybody who needs information or data can file a Kansas Open Records Request for the information they are seeking. The city clerk’s office will even help citizens in making the filing. Much has been said during this campaign about the city “not posting its checkbook” openly. That’s simply not true. While the city does not post a typical checkbook register or ledger, anyone is free to simply call the appropriate department or staff person and ask for the information they are looking for. I am not opposed to changing the system and posting actual ledgers on the city’s website.

Mike Hoheisel (District 3)

For a truly accessible and transparent city, we need to require that all funds provided to public/private partnerships require full transparency, so we can see how our money is being spent. We need to ensure that an internal auditor is appointed as required by law and remove that office from under the city manager’s office. We also need to follow the county’s example and put our finances online so the public can see how we’re spending their money.

Note: The City of Wichita has an internal auditor, but the position has been vacant since May 2020. A city spokesperson said interviews with candidates for the position are ongoing.

Cindy Claycomb (District 6) 

I’m accessible to all who are interested in the issues Council is working on, especially those issues with direct impact on the citizens of District 6.

You can reach me virtually every day in person, by phone or email. I attend every neighborhood meeting I can fit into my schedule, plus many community groups.

I’m transparent and follow the spirit and letter of open meetings and open records laws.

The best way for District 6 residents to participate is by attending our Advisory Board meetings and monthly coffee gatherings. More information

Maggie Ballard (District 6) 

As a council member, I would focus time going out into the district to receive feedback from residents where they are, instead of expecting them to come to me at a District Advisory Board meeting. I would also add more community outreach staff to assist the council. We need to make the resources available so that council members can connect to all residents. The only way to do that is to have a diverse staff with diverse skills able to establish ongoing communication with all the different communities that make up Wichita.

What is the proper role of economic development incentives, such as tax increment financing, sales tax and revenue bonds and industrial revenue bonds, in Wichita’s future? 

Brandon Johnson (District 1)

The proper role of economic development incentives is to spur more private sector growth and development for smaller businesses and disadvantaged areas. One great example of how TIF can be used for benefitting a private and public effort is the complete renovation of the Chester I. Lewis Reflection Square on Douglas. In addition to projects like that, we have greatly improved our economic development plan to support smaller businesses and hopefully increase investment in areas that have historically been neglected with options like an origination fee as opposed to a community improvement district that could fund items like affordable housing.

Myron Ackerman (District 1)

Did not respond

Jared Cerullo (District 3) 

I believe economic development incentives should be used only sparingly. I voted to reject a $10 million dollar STAR bond request from Top Golf. Top Golf is a billion-dollar company that does not need a tax break to make their development work.

We are currently seeing trouble with the baseball park development.  Although I have not seen actual data, I would be extremely surprised if the baseball team is drawing enough fans in order to pay off the debt. I was against the ballpark development deal, but that was before I was on council. Now, it’s too late. We must deal with the problem in the most efficient manner.

Mike Hoheisel (District 3)

Proper use of TIFs, STAR bonds and IRBs can be a noble and useful tool if used to help distressed communities. Unfortunately, they seem to just be used as giveaways for the more affluent areas of town. We only have one TIF district in the 3rd District, one of the poorest and most blighted districts in the city. The successes of these districts are few and far between, and more scrutiny is needed as to when their use is proper. Unless solid plans aimed at disaffected areas are provided, they should no longer be used.

Cindy Claycomb (District 6)

These are all tools the city has available, primarily to add or retain jobs and diversify the economic base, so our residents have more opportunities for good lives for their families.

Some previous uses of economic development incentives deserve the criticism they’ve gotten. The tools themselves aren’t the problem; it’s the way they were used.

I worked in corporate finance before I became a business professor and council member, so I set high standards for the use of these tools. When the city staff analysis and my own judgment thinks the tools will help, I support their use.

Maggie Ballard (District 6)

We should use every tool in our toolbox to help Wichita catch up to other cities in our region, and that includes these economic development tools. However, they must be used in a transparent and competitive manner. I think it is the job of the council to use business sense and only sign on to good deals for the taxpayer. We must look at deals and plan for the worst and hope for the best. In the past, the city hasn’t held developers accountable for their end of the bargain, leaving the taxpayer to foot the bill.

Many of the poorest communities in Wichita today are the same ones that were redlined decades ago. What role should the city play in reversing the impacts of historic inequities and underinvestment?

Brandon Johnson (District 1)

It is my view that as elected officials, we should know how historical laws and/or policies have impacted our city and work in present terms to correct those mistakes. The city can prioritize infrastructure projects, economic development incentives and investment funds in these areas to help bridge gaps. The key, however, is to work with the communities and work toward their needs in a way that does not gentrify the area like we see across our community today.

We should continue discussing these concerns and commit to fixing them, even though we may not have contributed to those actions in the past.

Myron Ackerman (District 1)

Did not respond

Jared Cerullo (District 3) 

We must figure out ways to get people to take pride in their neighborhoods again. Forty-one percent of the people who live in District 3 do not own their homes. They rent. Therefore, I believe the city needs to come up with incentives or ordinances to force landlords to make sure their tenants are keeping their properties in decent shape. Hilltop and Planeview are definitely poor neighborhoods. But most of the landlords who own the vast majority of properties there are not destitute, by any means. It’s time we put landlords’ feet to the fire on this matter.

Mike Hoheisel (District 3)

Redlining is unfortunately a shameful legacy that our city, like many in America, has passed down through the ages. Not only do they face economic disparities, but environmental ones as well. We need to work with the federal government to provide funds to clean up toxic dump sites and polluted groundwater, and work within the city government to provide vouchers for transportation to grocery stores for these disaffected communities as many are in food deserts. Also, we need to enforce city codes on landlords to ensure proper upkeep of properties in these areas.

Cindy Claycomb (District 6)

Because redlining was national policy to deny financial services in poor neighborhoods, generations of people weren’t able to accumulate the home values and wealth of those in favored white neighborhoods.

You can still see the impact in the vast central part of Wichita, including portions of District 6.

City government can work alongside lenders, community housing groups and social service agencies for neighborhood improvements.

These can include favorable lending programs, faster condemnation and demolition of dilapidated housing, street improvements, abandoned lot cleanups and improved community resources, like the Empower Evergreen project we’ve been working on during my first term.

Maggie Ballard (District 6)

As someone who is raising a family in the core of our city, I know the city could make it more attractive to other families by making it a better place to live. We need to get back to basics by fixing our roads, improving public safety and enhancing community services in the core. Increasing population is the only way to increase property tax revenue to invest back into our infrastructure. The city should lead the way and collaborate with the county and school board to come up with an inclusive strategic plan.

Should the structure of Wichita’s city government be changed, such as the Council-Manager form of government or the nonpartisan election of council members?

Brandon Johnson (District 1)

At this time, I do not believe we should make local government partisan nor shift from our current form of government. Having a city manager is a really good buffer to keep most political gamesmanship out of local government. A steady and experienced city manager can ensure the city runs well, while an engaged council gives guidance on priorities. This form of government forces elected officials to work together, no matter their ideology, and has served Wichita well in my opinion. Partisanship and political games are only a detriment to the citizens we serve.

Myron Ackerman (District 1)

Did not respond

Jared Cerullo (District 3) 

The council-manager form of government has worked very well for the city of Wichita for many years. Switching to a strong mayor system is not the way to go. A strong mayor system gives the elected mayor the power to hire and fire department heads at will with no input from the council. The strong mayor system has also been abused in many cities who have been forced to switch back to the council-manager form of government. The city manager cannot act unless he has the majority vote of the council. The council-manager format provides for the necessary checks and balances. I believe City Council elections should remain nonpartisan.

Mike Hoheisel (District 3)

We should bring city legal and city finance out from under the city manager’s office to better provide checks and balances, and limit the power of the single most powerful position in the city, who also happens to be an unelected official. We need to have a charter committee who meets every 10 years to provide suggestions to the council on changes that should be made to city government. We should engage the public in a discussion about what changes they want to see in regard to a strong mayor system and adding more council seats so our government better reflects the demographics of the city.

Cindy Claycomb (District 6)

I like the council-manager form of government because each district is given an equal voice in city decisions. The alternative strong mayor form of government, like you see in Chicago or New York, gives too much influence to a single individual.

When we sit at weekly council meetings, I rarely see a partisan divide. I see seven human beings, with different constituencies and life experiences, trying to make good decisions for the future of Wichita.

Maggie Ballard (District 6)

I wouldn’t change our form of government, however, we need more checks and balances to the current system. When all department heads report only to the city manager, there is an incentive to keep the manager happy to keep your job. The director of finance and the legal department should report to the council, to provide more transparency and keep policy-making with the council, as our city charter intends. We should review our charter regularly, once every 10 years, to stay up to date without making it such a political issue.

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Hack covers local government for The Wichita Beacon. She is a Report for America corps member.