by Mary Rupert
There are a couple of rematches on the primary election ballot on Tuesday, Aug. 6, for Unified Government Commission seats.
The rematches will include UG Commission, 1st District at large, where incumbent Commissioner Melissa Bynum faces Mark Gilstrap, and UG Commission, 4th District, where incumbent Commissioner Harold Johnson faces former commissioner Tarence L. Maddox.
Nine UG Commission candidates are on the primary ballot on Tuesday, Aug. 6. The candidates for the 1st District at large are Bynum, Gilstrap and Steven James. Running for the 3rd District are incumbent Commissioner Ann Murguia, Mary V. Gerlt and Christian A. Ramirez. Candidates for the 4th District include Johnson, Maddox and Jorge Luis Flores.
Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 6, in Wyandotte County for the primary election, which is nonpartisan.
Voters should go to their assigned polling place to vote.
Also on the Aug. 6 primary are contests for the BPU at large position 3 (http://wyandottedaily.com/bpu-at-large-3rd-district-race-attracts-six-candidates/) and BPU, Districts 1 and 3 (http://wyandottedaily.com/seven-candidates-run-for-bpu-districts-1-and-3/).
More details about voting are at http://wyandottedaily.com/early-voting-begins-saturday-for-primary-election/.
UG Commission, 1st District at large
Incumbent Commissioner Melissa Bynum is seeking re-election to the 1st District at large seat. Also running for the position are Steven James and Mark Gilstrap.
At the July 17 forum, Bynum said she is proud of the work that has been done together in Wyandotte County and of the momentum here.
She mentioned one of her accomplishments as joining with Commissioners Gayle Townsend and Harold Johnson to create an opportunity for people in the northeast area of Wyandotte County to create their own vision for what they want in the community. A master plan now has been adopted for the northeast area.
At the forum, Bynum said she was not in favor of increasing taxes. In the past three budget cycles, the UG has delivered reductions of 2 mills for three years for the city, for a total 6 mill city reduction, she said. She supported the current budget using reserves to cover the $2 million or $3 million shortfall and would not support raising taxes to cover the shortfall, she said. The UG still would have considerable reserves left after covering the shortfall.
Answering a question about municipal identification cards, Bynum said the idea of municipal identification cards could be useful here in Wyandotte County, and potentially benefit different populations, including senior citizens. She still has some questions about a municipal identification program, she said, and would need assurance from other institutions that they would recognize it as a valid form of identification if the UG leads an effort to develop it.
Bynum is executive director of the Shepherd’s Center, Kansas City, Kansas. She is a graduate of Sumner Academy and Kansas State University. She is also a past publisher and past editor of the Wyandotte West.
She ran for the UG Commission, 1st District at large, previously in 2003. She also applied for the vacancy in 2013, but the position was not filled until the 2015 election.
Steven James said at the July 17 candidate forum at KCKCC-TEC that he has lived 39 years in Wyandotte County and attended schools here, including Wyandotte High School.
A community health worker with the University of Kansas, James referred to the city as “falling down” and said the infrastructure is in great need of repair.
He said he expected the first year to be a learning year where he would work with other commissioners. He said he would listen to residents.
He said he has been asked by residents about the PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) fee on the BPU bills, which goes to the Unified Government. He said no one seems to know what it is used for, and if elected, he would bring light to what is happening to this money.
There’s a very big need for people to be put in contact with programs and grants that could help them, he said. He said he would like to take away the obstruction between the community and the government.
He supported using the UG’s reserves currently to make up a shortfall in the budget. He said he would want to find out why there was a shortfall and if it would continue. He indicated he would be interested in looking at the priorities of the budget.
“I want to bring light to the youth of this community,” James said.
“We need to invest in our youth a lot more,” he said. “We need to invest in the people a lot more.”
On the question about municipal identification cards, James said he was not too familiar with the issue, but didn’t understand why it would be needed.
Mark Gilstrap did not attend a candidate forum held July 17 at KCKCC-TEC, nor a candidate event held June 27 at the First Baptist Church, 500 Nebraska. According to sources, he attended some other candidate events.
Gilstrap ran for the commission seat in the spring elections of 2015, took second place in the primary by one vote over Nathan Barnes. Bynum won the general election over Gilstrap in 2015 by a margin of more than 1,200 votes.
Gilstrap is a former state senator for the 5th District, who is retired from the UG Finance Department, treasury division, where he worked 33 years. He is a former city treasurer, former deputy county treasurer and was deputy revenue director. Gilstrap ran as a Republican in 2012 for the state Senate, and lost in the primary to Steve Fitzgerald.
He was a state senator from 1996 through 2008. For several years, Gilstrap ran as a Democrat, then changed his affiliation to Republican. A lifelong Wyandotte County resident, Gilstrap, 66, is a graduate of Rockhurst University and Bishop Ward High School.
UG Commissioner, 3rd District
In the 3rd District, incumbent Commissioner Ann Brandau Murguia faces a challenge from Mary V. Gerlt and Christian A. Ramirez.
At the June 27 candidate event at the First Baptist Church, 500 Nebraska, Murguia said her accomplishments during the past 12 years in the 3rd District include converting the old Structural Steel site, an environmentally contaminated site, and repurposing it into a new $25 million Walmart Neighborhood Market. Seventy percent of the people in Argentine wanted a grocery store, she said. They were also able to secure a $7 million Save-a-Lot store nearby.
She said they are also proud of the $6 million library built in Argentine, a project of the Kansas City, Kansas, Public Schools-library system and the community, which raised $2 million of the amount.
Another development she cited was a $60 million retail development across from the University of Kansas Hospital near 39th and Rainbow. Also cited was redevelopment along County Line Road.
She said she was particularly proud of private money through foundations that the 3rd District was able to raise for curbs and sidewalks in the community. She said this was in the millions of dollars.
Murguia also serves on the Kansas Board of Regents. She has a bachelor’s degree in human services from Ottawa University and a Master of Business Administration degree from Baker University.
Commissioner Murguia did not attend the July 17 forum.
Mary V. Gerlt also is running for UG Commission, 3rd District.
“I’m very interested in what’s going on in Wyandotte County,” she said, and she has noticed some differences between Wyandotte County and places she formerly lived. She is a former resident of Kansas City, Missouri.
“I would like to increase the peace, and the freedom, and the prosperity of this community,” she said. “And I think we can do that by empowering people, simplifying the rules that surround our lives and the Unified Government, and I think we can definitely do that by lowering our property taxes.”
She said there are a number of ways to lower taxes, including by how much money the UG puts into TIF (tax increment financing) infrastructure projects.
“I also think some of our tax dollars can be better spent on things like restoring our sidewalks and basic things that are already there, instead of trying to create something new that people may or may not have asked for,” Gerlt said.
People just want their community centers back, the classes back, the roads and services that everybody counts on, she said.
She said the UG should look at eliminating TIFs or STAR bonds.
“It’s unfair to favor one business over another with tax dollars that we have worked hard to earn, and are being taken from us, and now they’re being used for projects that we may or may not have approved,” she said. Sometimes the businesses fail, she said.
“I strongly believe that you cannot artificially create economic benefit in areas with tax dollars. I don’t believe you can tax yourself into prosperity,” she said.
If there is a potential for there to be a market for something then the free market will happen, she said. Sometimes no other businesses will come in unless they get a similar TIF deal, she said.
Gerlt also ran in 2018 for lieutenant governor of Kansas on the Libertarian ticket.
Christian A. Ramirez, also a candidate for UG Commission, 3rd District, said his grandfather moved here from Mexico and established a general store in the 3rd District. Unfortunately, the store was destroyed in the 1951 flood.
“He taught my mother, and my mother always taught me, to always give back to the community,” Ramirez said.
“Our voices are not being heard in our local government,” he said. “People are shouting, but no one is hearing it, especially the people of south Rosedale, where the infrastructure is horrible.”
They need sidewalks so the children can walk safely to school, he said.
“For so long, this area has been promised a lot, and nothing has come through,” he said.
On the topic of the UG budget, he said he would be OK with a one-time use of the reserve funds to help with the shortfall. But he added he is afraid it wouldn’t stop there, and might be used again.
“What we really need to do is to really look at the development agreements we’ve already made and reevaluate them, and see if they’re good for the community and if they’re actually bringing in good amount of revenue to the county,” Ramirez said.
TIFs and other tools are good for economic development, but they have to be used the right way and in the best interests of the community they’re going to be used in, he said. A review would show where the UG is giving too much and where the UG is receiving less than what it is giving away, according to Ramirez.
In 2018, Ramirez served as the volunteer coordinator and finance assistant for Brent Welder’s Congressional campaign. He also served as chairman of the Wyandotte County Young Democrats and treasurer of the Kansas Young Democrats.
UG Commissioner, 4th District
In the 4th District, incumbent Harold Johnson faces a challenge from former commissioner Tarence Maddox and from Jorge Luis Flores.
Johnson won the seat from Maddox in spring 2015 by 141 votes.
Johnson, a lifelong resident, graduated from Sumner Academy, Kansas City Kansas Community College, and received a bachelor’s degree in management and finance from Park University. He received his Master of Business Administration from Avila University, and is currently studying for an advanced degree in ministry.
He is the pastor of the Faith Deliverance Family Worship Center in KCK and formerly served as a bank vice president.
Johnson said he was most proud of his vision, and of master plans being executed throughout the 4th District.
“I believe we’ve got some great things started, I think we need time to continue to finish those things and work on other projects we have that will benefit the quality of life for all persons here in Wyandotte County,” Johnson said.
On a question about the budget, Johnson said the UG has reduced the mill levy by 2 mills for three years in a row. They did that because they heard from residents the property taxes were too high. One of the reasons the UG had a shortfall this year is because the UG tried to enact was told to them by their constituent base. If the UG hadn’t made the decision to cut the mill levy in the past, it might not have the shortfall now, he added.
“We had to go into our reserves for right now,” he said. “We’re going to continue to watch that reserve fund. As we go into the 2020 budget, I’m saying to hold the mill, not reduce it any further, let the real estate market rebound and see where we are.
“What I’m looking for in the future is priority-based budgeting. That’s going to systematically show us the areas that need adjustment,” Johnson said.
In answer to a question, Johnson thought the municipal identification card program was a great idea. Wyandotte County has people of many different backgrounds, he said, and is a melting pot.
The municipal ID will aid persons who want to enjoy a good quality of life in Wyandotte County and is a way to better celebrate the differences that make people what they are, he said.
Tarence Maddox served from 2012 to 2015 as 4th District commissioner.
“As I’ve aged, I’ve learned, I’ve matured, and I’m glad to be back on this campaign trail,” Maddox said.
“I’m calling myself ‘the urgent option’ because we are running out of time,” he said.
There is an urgent need for change in the 4th District, he said.
Maddox has a seven-step plan that would include: a safer community; infrastructure emphasis; budget priorities; community upkeep; economic development and community development; youth opportunities; and advocacy to speak up for the residents of the 4th District at every level.
On the question of the budget, Maddox said there’s a lot of flak in different line items and departments. Some things could be removed to find extra revenue, he said.
When asked about the municipal ID proposal, Maddox said he was for identification, and there had been some incidents in the community in the past few years involving undocumented immigrants. He said he would want to know how much a municipal ID would cost and where the revenue would go.
“Everybody in this country should be documented,” Maddox said. “We have an issue with terrorism, we have an issue with people coming into our borders that we do not know, and they may create crimes, so I’m all for identification. I don’t know how municipal ID is different from a state ID, which is already regulated.”
Jorge Flores, also a candidate for the 4th District seat, said he is a second-generation Wyandotte County resident. Originally from the Armourdale area, he moved to the Central area, and later to the 4th district.
He is a graduate of Wyandotte High School, Kansas City Kansas Community College and University of Missouri at Kansas City.
He became a full-time police officer for the Kansas City, Kansas, Police Department during his college years, and also started a real-estate business.
He left the police department to run for office, he said. He said his experience as a police officer helped him understand what the people need and they hear what is truly going on in the community.
“My goal as a commissioner is to focus on the young community,” Flores said. He added he wanted to be a role model for youth.
On the question of the budget, he said the UG should look at what it has done in the past, so it can move forward and make better decisions.
“We’ve got to make sure the decisions we make benefit the community and not just benefit certain people,” Flores said. “We have spent so much money on projects, and these projects bring us back down to where we have started.”
“If we don’t take care of what we have, and we continue to spend, then we’re just spending for nothing,” he said. “We need to be more responsible with our budget, and what we do with the money, and start listening to our individuals in our community to make sure that is what they want done in our community.”
About municipal ID, Flores said this is a continuing issue in law enforcement. Officers don’t know who’s behind the wheel or who they’re going to stop, he said.
“If we can’t identify them at that moment, then we can’t identify them once they arrive at their destination and break the law, or just arrive at work,” he said. “We just don’t know, but we need to know. This helps us identify who individuals are.”
It also helps individuals to get a job, to drive and to be identified, he said. It helps law enforcement and helps keep the community safer, he said.
There are a lot of people driving now without a driver’s license or identification, who are a risk and who don’t exist in the system, he said.
The July 17 forum was sponsored by Business West and KCKCC.
More in-depth views from the candidates on the issues is available through candidate forums being shown on the KCKCC cable television station, on Spectrum and Google channels. Videos of the candidate forums are being shown on the KCKCC cable television station, KCEC. Videos also are being shown on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/user/KCECable. For more information on the schedule for cable television, visit http://wyandottedaily.com/candidate-forum-to-be-shown-on-cable-tv/.
Voters with questions about their polling places may contact the Wyandotte County Election Office at www.wycovotes.org/ or 913-573-8500.
Past stories about the 2019 election are online at http://wyandottedaily.com/category/election-2019/.
To reach Mary Rupert, editor, email firstname.lastname@example.org.