To the editor:
In response to the Wednesday, Feb. 5, article mentioning the selection process used to fill vacant City Council seats outside of the normal election cycle and/or unusual circumstances.
I am not the only candidate and/or voter in the community seeking answers. I was the one who choose to initiate dialogue with the Council. We recognize that statute gives the governing body the right to appoint. That was never a question.
The Council was asked why no other options were provided to the public other than a selection committee process to fill the vacant seat. We asked because it was not clear if statute dictated the exact selection process the Council used.
We referenced a couple of options. We did not request or recommend a mail-in ballot or a special election. That would be too burdensome on the community. However, we do believe the community needs to be involved.
This is not a race issue. The demographic statistics provided included more than ethnicity. We quoted from the Better Than Great Summary Vision Plan. “Much of the poverty in the community is concentrated in the eastern part of Great Bend, east of Washington Street, west of Frey Street, south of 17th Street and north of Railroad Avenue.” This area covers a significant amount of the 4th Ward that is impoverished and often referred to as Little Mexico.
“In Great Bend, of those in poverty, 1,844 are white/Caucasian and 1,159 are minorities of which 1,045 are Hispanic. “Compared nationally, this area is in the 90th percentile of population for low income households, children under 17, and people without a high school diploma, while ranking in the 80th percentile for speaking English less than well and not having a vehicle. In other words, this section of Great Bend is highly susceptible to social vulnerabilities.” Given those stats, you can see this is not a race issue but a ward that faces many challenges.
We appreciate the heritage of the Mayor and understand it to be beneficial. However, we still need the best possible Council Member that has a vote and is also able to work with the entire Ward to help us overcome those issues.
We do not expect the City Council to solve all the problems in the Ward. This is a mutual responsibility. We also do not believe it is the job of a member of the selection committee to recruit a candidate to fill the seat.
With the current selection process, the committee makes the selection decision based on who they want. The residents of the Ward do not have a say and they do not have a vote. We felt it silences the voter’s voice and it takes away their vote. We also said we do not believe it was the council’s intention to do so but that was the unfortunate result.
In less than a year, two of the eight chairs have been self-selected by the City Council. That is 25%. Now a third chair is open and will be filled again by the City Council’s choice. It is worth pointing out that 37.5% of the governing body will have been selected and “not elected.”
Simply, we wanted to know if the Council had the discretion to use a different selection process – perhaps one that could involve community input and engagement in a way that their voice could be considered. We’ve seen other positive change occurring like the Great Bend Better Than Great program that involves the community. We want to keep it going.
Angela D. Sycz