In preparation for the city commission elections, the Mercury has asked each candidate to address several questions on various issues facing the city. These questions are designed to help voters understand each candidate’s position to facilitate the voter’s ability to make a more informed decision at the polls. This edition addresses miscellaneous issues not previously covered. Here are the candidate’s responses. These responses have been edited for space, but their full responses can be found on our website.
SEXUAL ORIENTATION AND NON-DISCRIMINATION
1. Should the city extend non-discrimination protections to include sexual orientation? If so, should an exemption be permitted for religious beliefs?
John Ball: No. All people should be treated fairly, equally, and with respect. This cannot be achieved by using the coercive police power of government to elevate the rights of one behavior group over another. In practice, this means taking rights from one group and giving those rights to another group usually generating unintended consequences.
Daniel Hogan: Yes, all citizens should be protected against discrimination. However, I do not agree with the existence of the Human Rights Advisory Board. …Exemptions should be granted only if the organization seeking the exemption is funded and operated by a recognized church/religious organization (except Westboro Baptist Church).
Rich Jankovich: …no, I am not supportive of bringing this issue forward. However, I believe we need to take a hard introspective look at ourselves and our community…
Karen McCulloh: …We will never be able to legislate people’s attitudes, legitimate or not, but we can make sure that all employees of the city are given the same access to benefits and legal rights…
Debbie Nuss: Yes, the city should extend non-discrimination protections to include sexual orientation (and gender identity)…No, an exemption should not be permitted for religious beliefs…
Usha Reddi: …Discrimination perceived or not by an individual, must be taken seriously. I will be a commissioner who listens thoughtfully to concerns raised by citizens.
Bob Strawn: No. If religious organizations are to be exempt then religious people should be as well. The law should be consistent. Religion is about a set of moral values and beliefs, not about buildings (organizations)…
2. To what extent would you favor exploration of inter-governmental consolidation?
Ball: I fully support exploring and studying ways to make city government more efficient and effective for the Manhattan taxpayer…There is certainly room for better collaboration and cooperation between the city and county governments, but consolidation would need to be carefully studied to ensure that there are not unintended consequences to either city or county citizens.
Hogan: I support a privately funded study of the idea. However, I have no current opinion on whether the governments should consolidate.
Jankovich: I believe we need to look first at areas where we can share costs, such as purchasing, specific internal services like vehicle/equipment maintenance, IT, etc. …I believe we should look for better cooperation and collaboration first. While some of our missions (city/county) are similar, we do serve different populations and needs.
McCulloh: Consolidation is not a panacea for lowering taxes and streamlining government …There are several activities which could be consolidated to benefit both sides. For example, we could have one main site for GIS mapping at the county. The idea of combining (human relations) or purchasing has been studied and found to cost more dollars than the present arrangement.
Nuss: I would support an update to the study that was done previously or would support a new study being done to determine whether intergovernmental consolidation can create efficiencies, save taxpayer dollars, and/or provide better governmental services.
Reddi: I think we need to explore consolidation but not at the expense of quality and effectiveness…Riley County Police Department is a good example of consolidation. I would caution in consolidating at all levels because it may not be cost-effective or efficient…
Strawn: I strongly favor a study about the pluses and minus of consolidating city, county and RCPD governance…
VICIOUS DOG ORDINANCE
3. Do you think the city needs a vicious/dangerous breed ordinance?
Ball: No. As of now, there does not seem to be a need. I have not had the issue raised by anyone I have talked with.
Hogan: The city needs a vicious dog ordinance, not a vicious breed ordinance. Vicious dogs are made by irresponsible owners; they are not vicious because of their breed.
Jankovich: …[The ordinance] holds owners of some breeds to a higher standard and I believe to date this has worked well…I don’t believe we need to take this further at this time.
McCulloh: I think the city dangerous dog policy is adequate as it is. More important than changing the policy is enforcing it. We need to have adequate animal control officers to make sure people are following the rules.
Nuss: … Having not heard any concerns about the existing ordinance I don’t know that any changes are needed at present. Should citizens have concerns about the ordinance, then it should certainly be re-evaluated.
Reddi: Like any issue, I will listen to all sides and make a thoughtful and informed decision on the facts about a vicious/dangerous breed ordinance.
Strawn: Not beyond existing law.
GUN CONTROL ISSUES
4. Do you think the city needs to do more with gun control?
Ball: No. As a National Rifle Association member and hunter, I have a constitutional right to own firearms for recreation and protection.
I believe that Manhattan has sufficient gun ordinances in place now to provide reasonable control of firearms. I would support a review of the city’s gun ordinances to ensure that they are not too restrictive on law-abiding citizens.
Hogan: Yes, the city needs to ensure that the Second Amendment rights of the citizens are not infringed. The city needs to repeal ordinances (that) would seek to prevent the lawful carry of firearms…I endorse the lawful open and concealed carry of firearms by law abiding citizens.
Jankovich: At the present time the city aligns with the state, per our city attorney. I believe this is satisfactory. The real culprit in the discussion is the “why” of the “shooters”. I believe more funds to mental health is warranted and enforcement of the laws on the books today.
McCulloh: When dealing with any kind of gun control, local government is really at the mercy of federal and state laws…
Nuss: Like the mayors in Hiawatha and Wichita, at the very least Manhattan’s mayor should support Mayors for Illegal Guns. Also, the city commission could ask RCPD if it has any specific recommendations about gun control measures or ordinances that would be beneficial to the community.
Reddi: I don’t believe the city has much say in gun control laws at this time. Our job is to enforce state and federal guidelines.
There is still debate going on if states can overrule federal gun laws.
Strawn: Not beyond existing law.
5. Should the city revisit a rental inspection program?
Ball: No, I don’t support the city government getting between the renter and the landlord. The person providing the service should work directly with the person buying the service.
Hogan: No. Habitability of a dwelling should be left up to the potential tenant and the landlords.
Jankovich: No… While I believe there are properties that are substandard, we do have enforcement mechanisms in place to handle these issues. …I believe we should explore neighborhood revitalization opportunities in some of the older areas of Manhattan that have many “converted” single family homes to bring them back to single family and make them affordable.
McCulloh: My position on rental inspections has always been: when personal safety is on the line, we need to have rules to protect human life….If the previous inspection plan was too complicated or costly, we need to revisit it and make it work…
Nuss: I was disappointed that the rental inspection program was rescinded. Rather than abandoning the entire program I wish we had given it a chance to work and then made modifications to the parts that were problematic.
Having said that, this is not a specific issue that I would advocate that the commission bring back for discussion. However, if there was broad based public support for it to be reconsidered, then I would certainly be willing to do so.
Reddi: … We need to evaluate progress that has been made. We need to get landlords, tenants, the City, parents, higher education establishments and USD 383 to sit down and discuss how to educate our youth and tenants on their rights and responsibilities and how to hold landlords accountable. … I will work with landlords and tenants to ensure safety and security regarding rental properties.
Strawn: I have in my prior term recused myself from this subject due to a conflict of interests with my family’s bookkeeping business, will remain neutral on the subject in the future and will not favor it being on the city commission agenda during my term if elected.
PARKS AND REC EXPANSION
6. Should the city build, expand or improve its Parks and Rec Department offices?
Ball: I’d have to look at the full requirement in coordination with the city’s budget to provide a final answer.
I’d probably not support building a new building or expanding their current operation; however, I do support city staff having adequate office space…My solution would not require the city to increase debt or raise property tax. The city owns multiple properties in the community that are not being fully utilized and must be maintained at taxpayer expense.
Hogan: I agree that the Parks and Rec Department needs a new facility, however I do not think building or expanding is the proper course of action. The city would likely come out much better financially by renting or purchasing an existing property that meets the department’s needs.
Jankovich: I have voted to support this already.
…It appears that there are additional improvements to service that can come to the P&R department if the offices are relocated to city hall and the commission has asked for that data as we continue to review the project. …If this is tax neutral then I will support the effort.
McCulloh: … I realize the Park and Rec expansion is needed and has an identified source of income, but I also feel now is not the time for another building project given the concern over growing public debt…
Nuss: Yes. The current Parks & Recreation offices, while functional, are not an ideal working environment.
The decision regarding whether to build a new facility, improve the existing one, or modify existing city space to house the Parks & Rec office will need to be made based on the department’s needs and the other demands on the City budget.
Reddi: … The city should look at improving the Parks and Rec Department offices while considering the impact on the city budget.
…The space used now has not been updated in decades although there has been an increase in programs, staff and equipment.
Strawn: This is a budgetary issue and must be consistent with reducing the overall city debt, which has higher priority.