Last month, The Wichita Beacon surveyed our readers to find out what they most want to know about candidates running for local office.
Questions for City Council candidates centered on four themes: homelessness; the city’s worker shortage in areas of policing, health care and education; fentanyl deaths; and diversity and inclusion.
Only one district, District 4, has enough candidates for a primary. We asked the four candidates competing in the Aug. 1 primary for the District 4 seat to answer these questions. All but one responded — Bentley Blubaugh, Dalton Glasscock and Judy Pierce.
What follows are their responses, edited for length and clarity. We have also included links to each candidate’s campaign page and Ballotpedia entry, which provides basic bio information on each candidate and details about the race.
The two candidates who receive the most votes in the primary will advance to the Nov. 7 general election.
Pierce does not have a campaign website
What is your plan to reduce, if not end, homelessness within your term?
Find a solution to housing for the homeless. Whether it be renovating old buildings to house them, or leading them to a better housing situation.
We need a unified regional approach to address homelessness. Nearly all of our crisis is due to drug use or unaddressed mental illness. As a former Sedgwick County Mental Health Advisory Board member, I know a regional mental health facility is critical to any solution. Our community does not need another committee to study this issue; we need action. We need a housing-first solution that gets people off of our streets. With any housing-first solution, we must pair substance abuse counseling, health care, job training and more with these services. I’ve ridden with the Wichita Homeless Outreach Team and the Wichita Police Department. I’ve seen the challenges they face firsthand. Homelessness cannot be normalized. It is not healthy or safe for those who live on the streets, nor healthy or safe for our housed citizens — enough talk.
Housing is a basic human right. Over the years I’ve seen a lot of programs that attempt to solve the problem, but they get the cart in front of the horse. I hope to work with local agencies in adopting a housing-first model that flips the traditional paradigm, first housing the person and then working on harm reduction and behavioral health. This would give those who are unhoused a solid basis to begin the transition to stability. There needs to be a variety of wraparound services including health care, mental health services, drug and alcohol services, and life skills mentoring to increase their chances for success. If possible, I would like to see those who have had the lived experience at the table as we make the decisions, as well as possible employment opportunities as outreach workers that identify and help others to participate in the program.
How can the city address a shortage of highly qualified workers in fields critical to the public: policing, education and health care?
We need to find better solutions for recruiting, and be more aggressive in the process to find officers such as better benefits and pay.
One area in which City Hall does have control over a shortage of highly qualified workers is policing. We are currently down more than 70 officers — 100 if you include those eligible for retirement. Pay is always a factor, but we must think innovatively about other possible solutions to recruit and retain talent. I’m open to looking at college reimbursement options for those that enter our police or fire departments, longevity bonuses or health care retention incentives. I am committed and have the relationships to work with our partners in Topeka and also on our school boards. Each level of government needs to focus on its charge. If City Hall can do the things we are tasked with, maintain roads, keep our community safe and make investments in quality of life, we can help be part of the solution.
If elected this will be one of my top priorities. Jobs are an important driver in any community. Policing is something that I can affect as a City Council member, We are actually short in many of the departments in the city including fire and public works. We need to increase employment in all of these areas. People want services and services cost money, but money doesn’t grow on trees, so there will either be cuts somewhere else or citizens will need to pay more for the increased services. If we have more good living-wage jobs people don’t mind paying their fair share, but that’s where we have to spend where our priorities are. Secondly, when it comes to teachers and health care workers, which are not under the jurisdiction of the City Council, I think as a city we have a responsibility to advocate for better wages and protections for teachers and health care workers. As I understand this, the number one reason the jobs are not being filled is the treatment of these workers, which is driving them from the industry, and that definitely needs to change.
What would you do to address the growing number of opioid deaths, including fentanyl overdoses, in our community?
We need to find a solution to end drug use in Wichita, while not promoting it at the same time, i.e fentanyl test strips.
I believe harm prevention strategies that are proven to work must be implemented; this includes fentanyl testing strips and Good Samaritan laws. All police officers and firefighters must be equipped with naloxone, as should our public-facing employees, public works and transportation. Anyone with a community-facing role in our city staff should be given the tools and training to recognize signs and symptoms and how to act to save a life. We must include in our state and federal legislative agendas an endorsement of stricter penalties for dealers destroying our communities and families. Hundreds of Americans die every day from fentanyl. This won’t be solved city by city — we need a nationalized solution.
Everything I can. I carry naloxone in my handbag and encourage others to do so too. Opioid substance abuse is a terrible epidemic and the victims are our family members, friends and neighbors. Unfortunately many get on this path due to a medical issue legal prescription and find themselves in over their heads. Regardless of the reason, we need to take immediate action to resolve this public health problem. We need to treat it like the public crisis that it is and have steps in place to get people into immediate treatment, especially for fentanyl. We also need to start giving people real education about these substances and how they affect the user. We can’t just tell people, “Don’t do it, it will kill you,” and that hasn’t worked. The war on drugs has been a failure; perhaps we should try something different.
As a member of the City Council what steps will you take to ensure that all of our citizens (regardless of race, immigration status, sexual orientation or gender identity) are safe and have full access to city facilities and services?
To ensure Wichita has the facilities like it had in the past, as it has worked before in our city.
Wichita must be a welcoming community to attract talent, grow and maintain a high quality of life. First and foremost, it is the right thing to do. City Hall cannot expect people to come to our offices. Most Wichitans can’t take off on Tuesday mornings at 9 a.m. to address the council. I want to encourage the council to do monthly evening meetings in rotating districts around the city for better access to our citizens. Though not asked, we can’t forget persons with disabilities. Blind and visually impaired individuals, amputees and those in wheelchairs have many challenges in accessing services. From our city’s website’s lack of accessibility for blind people to the lack of ramps or automatic doors for those in wheelchairs, we can’t expect our city to be accessible until we, at City Hall, first invest in making our facilities accessible to all.
I support the NDO (nondiscrimination ordinance) passed by the current council. I’ve been fighting for the rights of others my whole life. In my personal life, work life and as a union steward and officer I have taken great pride in fighting for inclusion. There was a time in my career where being a woman was a hurdle to inclusion, and I have always had a personal conviction to do the right thing and I will continue to serve on the council with that same moral compass and direction.
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