The Great Bend City Council is now complete again.
On the recommendation of a mayoral select council committee, the full council appointed Junior Welsch to fill the vacant Fourth Ward council seat with the term ending January 2022. City Clerk Shawna Schafer administered the oath of office.
“I want to do my best to make Great Bend a better place,” said Welsch, who has served as the agronomy operations director at Great Bend Co-op for the past 15 years. “I know what we’ve got to do.”
He was one of four applicants, only three of which asked for an interview. He said he wants to bring “fresh ideas and fresh opinions” to the council.
Welsch chose now to apply since he has more time on his hands with his kids having fewer school activities.
How was the vacancy was filled
Welch now serves the Ward 4 along with Brock McPherson. Last November, McPherson ran an unsuccessful bid for mayor, but garnered the most write-in votes among the four write-in candidates for the second Ward 4 seat, an opening for which no one had filed.
There are eight members on the council, two representing each of the four wards and each serving two-year terms. Every year, one seat in each ward is up for election.
After much suspense, McPherson decided to keep his current position and not take the new one. Should he have switched, he would have resigned his current seat and been sworn into the new seat he was elected for in November 2019 since a member can’t hold two concurrent seats, city officials said.
He was elected in November 2018 to his current post which is up for reelection in 2020. But, the other second Ward 4 position that is up for reelection 2021.
Because of McPherson’s choice, the council the council had to fill the vacant Ward 4 position.
Applications were accepted through Jan. 17. Mayor Cody Schmidt appointed council members McPherson, Jolene Biggs, Jessica Milsap and Cory Urban along with himself to a committee of council members to review the applications, hold interviews and make a recommendation to the entire governing body.
Not everyone is happy
The actions by the council committee and the council as a whole amount to a “power grab,” said Angela Delgado-Sycz, in addressing the council Monday night. She was one of the four write-in candidates receiving votes last November for the Ward 4 seat.
The vacancy in Ward 4 became an issue when Andrew Erb didn’t seek another term. No one filed, so it came down to a write-in race.
In that race, McPherson received five votes; Randy Myers, who fell short in his bid for mayor, four; Jared Chansler, four; and Delgado-Sycz, three. There were a total of 49 votes cast.
There has been some confusion about how this process works. Some believe that in the event the top vote getter declines the seat, it automatically goes to the person with the second-highest number of ballots.
That is not the case, Barton County Election officials said. For Great Bend, the job of filling a vacancy comes down to an application process.
“I’m here to protect voting rights,” Delgado-Sycz said. “You effectively silenced the voice of the voters.”
Perhaps there should have been a mail-in election, but that could have been too costly, she said. She also recommended that perhaps those who received the most write-in votes, besides McPherson, should have been asked to apply.
Instead, it fell to the small committee to determine the ward’s representation. In it, a mere two votes could settle the outcome.
“The selection process is flawed,” she said. “Why have a voting process if you are not going to respect that.”
However, state statutes require cities to follow the procedure followed by the Great Bend Council, City Attorney Bob Suelter said.
Delgado-Sycz also charged the council lacked ethnic diversity, with 20% of Great Bend being Hispanic and a large number of them living in Ward 4.
Mayor Cody Schmidt took issue with this.
“I have to stop you right now,” he said. “I am half Hispanic.”
Councilwoman Jessica Milsap also said she had tried to reach out to the Hispanic community. Besides, she said, everyone had the chance to apply who wanted to.
Still, Delgado-Sycz was not content.
“We’re here tonight to get our voice back,” Delgado-Sycz. She realized no action could be taken, but she said she expected there to be dialogue and action in the future.
Great Bend City Council meeting at a glance
Here is a quick look at what the Great Bend City Council did Monday night:
• Appointed Junior Welsch as the Fourth Ward council member representative with the term ending January 2022. City Clerk Shawna Schafer administered the oath of office.
On the recommendation of a mayoral select council committee, the full council appointed Welsch who joins fellow Ward 4 councilman Brock McPherson.
• Learned Jessica Milsap, a council member, has been hired as the director of Great Bend Economic Development Inc.. The announcement came in a report from GBED board member Mark Calcara who offered an update on the groups activities.
• Authorized Mayor Cody Schmidt to sign cost-share agreements with the Kansas Department of Transportation for the Sunflower Rod and Custom Association dragstrip resurfacing, and the mill and overlay a large portion of U.S. 56 (10th Street).
• Authorized Schmidt to sign an agreement with the city’s on-call engineering firm Professional Engineering Consultants of Wichita to design the 10th Street cost-share program project at a cost of $123,000, but tabled action on the $96,700 for the dragstrip until the next council meeting.
• Approved changing the date for the next regular council meeting since it falls on Presidents Day which is a Holiday observed by the city. The meeting be held at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 18, at City Hall.