Manhattan City Commission candidates provided differing opinions Thursday on mandatory rental inspections.
Seven candidates for the Manhattan City Commission talked about topics ranging from climate change to LGBTQ+ rights at the People’s Forum at the Kansas State University Staley School of Leadership Studies. Mark Hatesohl did not attend because of a previously scheduled family vacation.
The People’s Forum MHK coalition is comprised of representatives from Manhattan Alliance for Peace and Justice, Renters Together MHK, Bike Walk MHK, Flint Hills Human Rights Project and Northview Rising.
Attendees had the opportunity to hold up green and red cards to indicate if they liked or disliked sentiments voiced by the candidates.
One of those topics — the possibility of required rental inspections — provided some division among the candidates.
The city currently does rental inspections when requested by property owners, managers or tenants.
Maureen Sheahan said she supports the idea, but said it all depends on what the program looks like. Aaron Estabrook said he supports the idea, but not on a mandatory, required status by the city.
Kaleb James and Vincent Tracey both said they do not favor the idea. Their opposition received a plethora of red cards from the audience. James said this idea would raise property taxes. Tracey said the idea is not feasible for Manhattan.
Sarah Siders said she supports the idea but wants it to be cost-neutral for the city. Current commissioner and candidate Linda Morse and Mary Renee Shirk also support the idea.
“This seems like a reasonable thing to do,” Shirk said.
On another topic of housing, generally all the candidates support establishing an advisory board to oversee affordable housing in the community. Tracey expressed he wasn’t sure how it would work out, but ultimately supported the idea.
The candidates discussed participatory budgeting as a new way for handling the city’s revenue.
James says the concept sets aside money for the neighborhoods in Manhattan to decide where and how the money is spent. He said he liked the idea.
Estabrook said he also is a “big fan” of this concept. “Manhattan certainly can do this,” he said.
Many of the candidates, like Morse, suggested discussing this topic at future work sessions.
“If this a way to get more people participating in government, I am absolutely for it,” Sheahan said.
Tracey said he is in support of this if it benefits the entire Little Apple community.
Siders said she completed research on the topic, and Shirk said she likes the idea.
Candidates also talked about a living wage of $14 per hour in the city. The entire group expressed they do not want people working multiple jobs to just make ends meet.
Estabrook suggested a $15 to $20 wage.
Outgoing city commissioner Jerred McKee shared a story with the candidates about coming to terms with his sexuality as a 19-year-old gay man. He asked the candidates if they would continue to support a nondiscrimination ordinance as well as stand up for the LGBTQ+ community.
All candidates expressed their support for the ordinance, and they all they would continue to support all people, no matter their sexual orientation.
As an African American, James said he relates to the discrimination people sometimes face and said he has seen plenty of discrimination.
Estabrook said he, Morse and Sheahan all have an Equality Kansas endorsement.
Candidates also gave their thoughts on improving biking for residents.
“I do not bike in this town because I don’t feel safe doing so, and I think that’s a real shame,” Sheahan said.
Tracey expressed his desire to give funding to biking projects, but wasn’t sure where to get money to fund improvements.
Estabrook suggested the possibility of using revenue from the general fund for improvements while James said using economic development funds could be a solution.
“We’ll find a way,” James said.
Siders said moving away from a “car-centric culture” is imperative. “There’s a lot of improvements that we can be making,” she said.
Shirk said putting an emphasis on public transportation is vital for the city.
“We need to catch up with the rest of the country and make it a priority in Manhattan,” she said.
Morse suggested tapping into money that the city already has for improvements.
The candidates also pondered a question from a K-State student about reducing carbon emissions by 30%.
All the candidates supported the idea, but James and Tracey said it may be hard to reach that goal.
“I’m not sure,” James said. “I support your vision and your direction.”
Morse called it a “worthy goal.”