The Eagle’s endorsements for Wichita City Council, school board and census amendment

On Nov. 5, Wichita voters will cast ballots that will help chart the community’s course for the next several years. They will elect a new mayor and members of the City Council and school board, and they will approve or reject a constitutional amendment that would end the state’s practice of adjusting census numbers for military and college students.

Here are the Eagle editorial board’s recommendations for Wichita’s general election:

Wichita City Council

District 2: Becky Tuttle

Becky Tuttle is a newcomer to the City Council, having been appointed in January to replace Pete Meitzner, who was elected to the Sedgwick County Commission. She wants more time to serve her east-side district, and she deserves a chance at a full term.

Tuttle, a former community development director for the Greater Wichita YMCA, served as chairwoman of the District 2 Advisory Board and was a key advocate for Wichita’s ordinance that banned indoor smoking. She says her priorities are quality-of-life issues, including infrastructure and public safety, as well as nurturing a qualified workforce.

Her challengers — Joseph Scapa and Rodney Wren — both have raised concerns about transparency and back-door dealings at City Hall, saying it’s time to stand up against cronyism. To her credit, Tuttle has pledged not to accept gifts and to keep constituents informed about city business.

District 4: Jeff Blubaugh

Over the past six years, incumbent Jeff Blubaugh has helped guide several major projects for this diverse southwest Wichita district, including improvements to roads, parks and bike trails, and he has earned a second full term on the council.

A real estate broker with 17 years in sales and marketing at Textron Aviation, Blubaugh says his district has potential for commercial development, particularly along the I-235 corridor in south Wichita and around a new baseball stadium in Delano. He has the political experience and capital to make things happen, but he should be sure to make transparency and public input a higher priority.

Blubaugh’s challengers — Beckie Jenek and Christopher Parisho, both first-time candidates — raise legitimate questions about a lack of information from City Hall about the new ball park, and the fast-track vote to sell land near the stadium to undisclosed investors.

Blubaugh acknowledged that “the process was not perfect,” but he believes the ball park will spur riverfront development and voted to approve it. Similarly, he raised concerns about King of Freight’s move to WaterWalk but voted to approve it.

In a conversation with the Eagle’s editorial board, Blubaugh raised concerns about recent meetings to gather input about Century II and the east bank of the Arkansas River, saying some voices are being ignored. He should be sure to note those concerns at the council table and demand answers before casting any votes.

District 5: Bryan Frye

Incumbent Bryan Frye is the best choice to lead this northwest Wichita district, in part because of his commitment to the city’s long-term infrastructure needs, including a new water treatment plant.

Frye, who serves on the steering committee for the new plant, has expressed some frustration about the process but remains optimistic that Wichita will end up with a high-quality plant. He has pushed to open meetings to the public, and he was the only council member who agreed to meet with an Eagle reporter to respond to reports that Mayor Jeff Longwell had steered the water plant contract to friends and political supporters.

Frye wants city government to be more nimble and to take decisive action rather than studying issues to death. He says the new library, arena and airport took much longer than they should have, and he wants quicker decisions on the water treatment plant and development along the east bank.

A former member of the Wichita park board, he should be commended for his innovative “Plates for Parks” idea, which has raised about $100,000 a year from royalty fees from Wichita-flag license plates.

Frye’s challenger, Michael Magness, a history teacher at South High School, said he decided to run because he doesn’t believe incumbents should go unchallenged. He also entered the race as a personal challenge, he says, after being hospitalized for chest pains and having to get a pacemaker. He believes city leaders should partner with schools, police and nonprofit groups to address problems like domestic violence, substance abuse and crime.

Wichita school board

At-large representative: Joseph Shepard

At 26, Joseph Shepard would be one of the youngest people ever elected to the Wichita school board. But his passionate voice, enthusiasm and knowledge of issues facing the district would make him an excellent at-large representative.

The Eagle’s editorial board named Shepard as our top choice in the school board primary, and voters concurred, handing him a first-place finish in the field of four candidates. Now he’s going head-to-head against longtime incumbent Sheril Logan, and we believe Shepard remains the best candidate.

Shepard, director of multicultural engagement and campus life at Newman University, says many students and families feel the district isn’t listening to their concerns.

An openly bisexual man, Shepard wants to ensure that schools are safe places for all students and staff members, and he supports adding protections for LGBTQ students into the district’s nondiscrimination policies.

As a former student body president at Wichita State University, he lobbied for greater transparency and public discussions of university business. If elected to the school board, he says he would hold regular town-hall meetings and live-stream them on social media to gather input from students and the community.

Logan, a former assistant superintendent, has served the board well since 2011. But the district’s challenges could use a fresh, more aggressive approach, and Shepard would provide that.

District 3: Ernestine Krehbiel

Since being appointed to the board in December 2017, Ernestine Krehbiel, a retired high school history and government teacher, has effectively served District 3, which includes parts of south and southeast Wichita. She is running unopposed for her first full term and deserves to be elected.

District 4: Stan Reeser

The clear choice in this southwest Wichita district is Stan Reeser, who was appointed to the board in 2017 to fill the unexpired term of former board member Jeff Davis.

Reeser, a former Wichita City Council member, has approached his school board duties thoughtfully and enthusiastically, and he has encouraged public discussion about controversial issues such as fencing off school playgrounds.

In an interview with the Eagle’s editorial board, Reeser said he decided to run for a full term to continue his work on behalf of students and employees, and to advocate for meaningful connections between the district and the larger community.

“You can’t have a great city without great schools — but it’s the opposite, too,” he said.

Reeser appreciates the diversity of Wichita’s public schools, where students come from 97 countries and speak more than 105 languages. He also recognizes its economic and mental-health challenges: More than three-fourths of Wichita students live in poverty, and increasing numbers have lived with traumatic situations, such as violence, substance abuse, hunger or neglect.

Reeser visits schools frequently and is a strong and practical voice on the board. He has pledged to advocate for reducing teachers’ workload and increasing the number of counselors and other mental health professionals in schools.

The other candidate is James Kilpatrick, a retired airport security officer who advocates for a “boot camp”-style orientation for immigrant and refugee students. “Diversity creates division, and we need unity and brotherhood,” he told the Eagle’s editorial board.

Census amendment

Kansas voters will decide Nov. 5 on a constitutional amendment that would end the state’s practice of asking college students and military personnel where they want to be counted for the U.S. census.

We recommend a yes vote on the ballot question.

As Secretary of State Scott Schwab accurately points out, the census adjustment is outdated, expensive and burdensome, costing the state about $830,000 every decade and not affecting the census count in any meaningful way.

Kansas is the only state that requires election officials to contact soldiers and students to discern where they want to be counted — at their permanent residences or where they live at the moment — for redistricting purposes.

The amendment enjoys broad support among lawmakers and deserves voter approval.

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This story was originally published October 28, 2019 10:03 AM.

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