Candidate questionnaire: Melissa Brune Bynum

Melissa Bynum
Melissa Bynum

Editor’s note: Melissa Bynum’s employment has included a communications position with Wyandot Inc., as well as past publisher and editor of the Wyandotte West.

Candidate Questionnaire:
Melissa Brune Bynum
At-Large, District 1, Unified Government Commission

Age: 51

Occupation: Executive Director, Shepherd’s Center of Kansas City, Kan.

Education: Sumner Academy of Arts and Science, 1981

Kansas State University, 1987; B.A. Journalism and Mass Communications

Organizations, clubs, groups to which you belong:
Kansas City, Kan., Women’s Chamber of Commerce; member, past president
Downtown Shareholders; board treasurer, past board chair (two terms)
Kiwanis Club of Kansas City, Kan., West; board treasurer, past president
Liveable Neighborhoods; board member, past board chair
Turner Community Connection; board member
Leavenworth Road Association; member, past board member (and former executive director)
Operation Brightside; advisory board member
K-State Research and Extension Council; immediate past board chair (Wyandotte County)
Wyandotte County Historical Society; board member
Business West; board member
Council of Clubs; current president
Welborn Community United Church of Christ; lifelong member
Leadership 2000; Class V, past board member and board treasurer

Reasons for running:
I was raised watching my parents bring up five daughters, work full time and continually give back to Wyandotte County. This sense of community service is just a part of my life. It seems my entire adult working career has been built around serving our community and enriching the quality of life for those who live and work here. It is my desire to take that deep-rooted desire to serve to the next level, by serving alongside the other Unified Government Commissioners. My faith and community life, as noted in question 6, have provided me a strong foundation of not only commitment to Wyandotte County, but proven leadership in service. While we have come very far as a community, there is much work yet to do; I am energized and ready to serve.

What is your top campaign issue?
My top campaign issue is to continue my long legacy of service to our community and to our neighborhoods. Strong neighborhoods build strong communities! Together, our residents have worked tirelessly, arm in arm with our law enforcement leaders and other community leaders, and this has resulted in record lows in crime and stabilization of neighborhoods. We cannot and must not turn away from the grassroots efforts that laid the foundation for all the development we’ve enjoyed. In addition, all of these residents who have given so freely of their time to partner with our leaders to reap this benefit, are long overdue the promise of lowered property (and other) tax burdens they have been bearing for decades.

There may be budget constraints facing local governments and schools. If you had to make cuts, what would be at the top of the list to cut?
First let me begin this answer by stating what would not be on the list at all – the jobs, wages and benefits of our Unified Government workers. We’ve been weathering the economic downturn since 2008, and balanced our budgets directly on the backs of those performing the essential functions of our government. I will not support any further budget balancing by enacting furloughs, wage freezes and job cuts to that critical workforce. Immediately on the table for cutting: benefits and perks provided to our elected officials, including unnecessary travel, stipends for vehicles, technology – all of this would have to be looked at first and foremost.

If you are an incumbent, list your top accomplishments in office. If you are not an incumbent, what would you change?
There are multiple changes I hope to bring to our community, beginning with an actual plan (including tactics, not just stating it as a goal) to begin lowering our property taxes with the 2016 budget cycle. While I appreciate the strategic planning efforts of the current mayor and commission, lowering our property taxes is mentioned almost as if in passing.
Also with regard to any future strategic planning efforts on the part of our leaders, I will ensure we include our desire to partner with the many residents, neighborhood groups, non-profit organizations, agencies and churches that have worked so hard to help bring about the successes we’ve seen in our community. Currently the word “partner” can be found only one time in the commission’s goals, as listed on the website.
We have seen many infrastructure improvements in the last few years, in all areas of our community. We have a newly improved State Avenue corridor, a new transit center and Minnesota Avenue improvements in downtown, a new transit center and police sub-station in midtown, new curb and sidewalk infrastructure in the Argentine and Rosedale communities, as well as in the northeast area, new bike lanes, the opening of the levy along the Kansas River for walking, and all of it was needed and is very much appreciated. Continuing to find innovative ways to fund the extensive infrastructure improvements still needed must be a priority.
One more change I would like to make, is to take a good, hard look at our current motor vehicle licensing processes and locations. This is an office where the public must go, in order to stay in compliance with title and registration laws. It is a shame we must deal with a failed motor vehicle processing system purchased by the state and forced upon our county motor vehicle locations; but adding insult to injury by penalizing our residents for processing vehicle renewals in person, and then adding additional local fees to that process is not helping to create a taxpayer-friendly experience in this office – an office most people dread visiting even without these added penalties and fees.

What is the difference, on the issues, between you and the other candidates running for this office?
In my humble opinion, it is my 20-plus years of proven, dedicated leadership to our community that sets me apart from the other candidates. I do not believe any other candidate can point to such a strong record of service to and for the residents of Wyandotte County. This community is my true passion, and that is evidenced by my years of working and serving right here in my home town. I have worked tirelessly with our government leaders, residents and many nonprofit agencies to bring people together to find new solutions that tackle old problems. Just one example is my work as the board chair for Liveable Neighborhoods; we faced decades-old problems of code enforcement, crime and delinquent tax collection and together, created new solutions to address those chronic issues. We researched best practices in other cities, and pushed forward the Landbank. Once adopted, we created the rules and regulations for the Landbank, put in place an advisory board to review the properties and applications. We supported the creation of the Neighborhood Resource Center, consolidating such government offices as community policing, code enforcement, building inspection, rental licensing and other offices where the community could come to one location to deal with neighborhood issues. We lead the community in landlord training, leadership training for neighborhood leaders, created community grants for the neighborhood groups, provided Good Neighbor Training for residents, created the graffiti abatement program, and the list goes on and on.

Have you run for elected office previously? When, results?
I ran for this same office in 2003, and was not elected. I applied for the vacancy in this office, created by the 2013 election of then-commissioner Mark Holland. No appointment was made at that time, and this seat has been vacant until this election.

Maddox seeking re-election

Commissioner Tarence Maddox
Commissioner Tarence Maddox

Unified Government Commissioner Tarence Maddox is seeking re-election to the 4th District position.

Commissioner Maddox, 32, is serving his first term as commissioner, and he is emphasizing his experience in office, saying that it would take the other candidates a long time to learn the ropes.

Commissioner Maddox is a graduate of Schlagle High School and has served as a youth mentor and coach in several programs.

He created and directed the Books not B.A.A.R.S. mentoring program, the Fellowship Across Cities, Towns and States program and the Excel LLC program..

He is a member of the African-American Black Caucus, the Progressive Federation of Women’s Democratic Club, Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity, Friend of JFK, and was named First AME outstanding community member in 2011. He has also been a member of national groups of African-American local elected officials.

Commissioner Maddox said at a recent forum that his goals would be to continue to grow the tax base in the district and to decrease crime, to attract stores and restaurants.

His “Ban the Box” effort to get the UG to remove the box on applications that prevented ex-felons from getting job interviews was successful, and is a first step toward helping residents to get jobs. He said he brought this idea back from one of the conventions he attended.

Commissioner Maddox said that he was instrumental in getting the John F. Kennedy Recreation Center reopened after it had been closed for several years.

During his first term in office, he received a public censure from the UG’s legislative auditor in March 2014. Commissioner Maddox made a remark at a recent forum about people not being aware of all the positive things he did for the district. One of the allegations was that he had used his title while conducting personal business.

Commissioner Maddox said that the district could not afford another four years for a new 4th District commissioner to learn the ropes on the commission. He said he has learned how to set policy and how to get along with the other commissioners.

Johnson seeking 4th District, UG Commission seat

Harold Johnson
Harold Johnson
Harold Johnson, pastor of the Faith Deliverance Family Worship Center, is running for 4th District, Unified Government Commission.

At a recent campaign forum, he cited his experience in working with people and handling financial matters through working 22 years at a large area bank.

While at the bank, he worked with some large nonprofit building projects using tax-exempt and conventional bond financing.

Johnson said he had the best skill set of the candidates, and had served on several nonprofit boards. He said the 4th District residents need to tell the story of the community, including how crime rates are down. Economic growth would not be a quick fix, he said, and it takes a long period of time, very focused on the objective, to make necessary changes.

Johnson said the people in the district did not have enough access to adequate health care. The healthy campus plan did not address the true disparities of health care access that exist in the community, he said. He said there is a need to look at how the 4th District could have better access to health care, as the county’s two hospitals are located in the Rosedale area and in western Wyandotte County.

Johnson said a commissioner has to be a consensus builder, be respectful, and also state his issues.

“The whole idea of a unified government – we don’t see that any more, there are little factions now,” he said.

Commissioners would need to look at how they can best work together, and to make sure there is a plan “that works for all of us,” Johnson said.
He described himself as “not a lot of flash” and said he works in a very methodical way.

On the issue of diversity in hiring at City Hall positions including the police and fire departments, Johnson said it was clear to him from a recent public hearing that the application process is unfair. He called for more transparency in the process. He also said the hiring of family members had to stop. The application and hiring process is completely skewed, he believes.