Voters will select Wichita’s next mayor on Nov. 7. Mail-in and in-person voting will begin this month. To help voters make their decision, The Wichita Beacon asked incumbent Brandon Whipple and challenger Lily Wu questions submitted by readers on taxes, housing, water and safety.
The candidates’ answers have been edited for clarity and length.
Do you favor lowering or increasing property taxes? How do you determine when an increase is justified?
It is important to keep property taxes affordable so home ownership is an option for as many families as possible in our community. During my public service, I’ve focused on keeping property taxes low for those who need it most. Recently, the City Council approved my plan to eliminate property taxes for our low-income seniors, veterans and families with a dependent child.
I’m opposed to tax increases. Local governments should get back to the basics, prioritizing taxpayer dollars for quality, essential services such as police, fire, water and infrastructure.
What policies would you instruct city offices, including police, to follow to ensure that the LGBTQ+ community, especially its transgender members, is protected from harassment or bullying?
On my watch, the city of Wichita earned a perfect score of 100 from the Human Rights Campaign (a national LGBTQ advocacy organization.). As long as I’m mayor, the residents of Wichita will have someone to advocate for you and your rights, no matter who you are, what you look like or who you love. I’m committed to keeping residents safe within our city and will continue pushing back against the toxic and hateful agendas we’re seeing out of Topeka and D.C.
I value all individuals and support individual rights. Our city has already passed a nondiscrimination ordinance, which I believe provides that protection.
What do you think of the current city manager? Do you believe the Wichita mayor and council provide enough oversight? Do you believe he should remain in his position?
(Since) the 2021 elections, the relationship between the council and manager’s office began to transform. I feel like the city manager takes direction from the majority of the council … based upon public feedback in public meetings, and not influenced by personal agendas or relationships. If the city manager refused to take direction, be transparent or accept oversight from the mayor and council, they should be removed from the position. But, currently, that is not the case.
I recently visited City Manager Bob Layton, Assistant City Manager Donte Martin and Assistant City Manager Troy Anderson, and am thankful for their knowledge and servant leadership. I believe our current council-manager form of government is appropriate. As a political outsider, who has not yet worked directly with the city manager, it would not be prudent or appropriate for me to comment (further).
Is Wichita doing enough to ensure residents have access to a reliable, safe water supply? If so, what do you suggest? How might water conservation factor in?
For too long, electeds in the city of Wichita ignored its obligation to fund basic services in favor of funding luxury projects for their buddies. While that kind of deferred maintenance can’t be fixed overnight, we are finally starting to see progress. Last year’s budget allocated money for two new, upgraded water stations and this year we added two more water stations that we hope to have installed very soon. … We are also very focused on water conservation measures and educating the public on how to conserve water to avoid more severe drought restrictions in the future. It’s important to plan ahead and mitigate potential risks, instead of ignoring them until they reach a breaking point that will negatively impact people’s lives.
The city of Wichita is currently replacing an 80-year-old water treatment facility with a new $500 million facility that will serve up to 550,000 people across Wichita and surrounding communities. Our city should always explore ways to access and protect a reliable water supply, such as nearby water supplies, like El Dorado Lake. Unfortunately, we are in Stage 1 of the drought and the city expects to be in Stage 2 this year, so I support water conservation efforts. From June to July, the city shut down decorative fountains, which saved over 2.7 million gallons of water.
What strategies do you favor for growth in housing in Wichita? Where do duplexes fit in and how should they be regulated?
In order to reduce inflation and ensure housing is affordable in Wichita, we need to increase our housing supply as soon as possible. At our last staff workshop on housing, the council determined we have to increase the number of units in our core. We have to look beyond building single-family housing and duplexes. We’re working to create programs that will incentivize owners and developers to fix up existing homes in our neighborhoods, as well as transform unused commercial space into multifamily housing. Increasing our housing supply as quickly as possible in our core is a top priority for me.
Affordable housing is largely a supply-and-demand issue. A 2021 report from The Beacon said Wichita’s housing director estimated the city needed closer to 50,000 more affordable housing units. Recently, a local nonprofit leader said Wichita has a shortage of 19,000 affordable and accessible rental units. We need more housing, including housing at more accessible price points within our community. We should review the city’s code to identify any exclusionary zoning, which limits new supply and drives up prices.
Do you think the Wichita Police Department’s use of gunshot detectors and license-plate detecting cameras is justified?
It is important to integrate new technology into our police department to make it more efficient to solve crime, however, it is equally important that we respect the privacy of our community and only use these technologies in well-defined circumstances.
We’ve seen success using these technologies to locate kidnapping victims, and Wichita Police Department’s current homicide clearance rate is over 90% because they are using these technologies to locate suspects more quickly.
Smart policing includes the use of technology like gunshot detectors and license-plate cameras, which can play a critical role in preventing violent crime and keeping our families safe. At the same time, it’s important we don’t infringe on personal privacy, so we must implement and maintain strict safeguards around information storage and access. A 2021 KSN report showed how two missing children were found with the help of the Flock (license-plate reader) camera system. Just this year, KWCH reported that the Flock system also assisted in the arrest of a homicide suspect.
Both candidates also participated in our primary mayoral election questionnaire where different questions were asked.
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