The City of Great Bend, out of no fault of its own, finds itself in an exceptional situation, and it began with the 2019 General Election. First, the mayoral seat was successfully won by a write-in candidate Cody Schmidt, despite a full slate of candidates on the ballot. Second, the city council appointed Junior Welsch to a Ward 4 seat left vacant when Andrew Erb chose not to run for a second term and no candidates were declared. Brock McPherson received the most write-in votes but chose not to take the seat because he was already occupying the other seat for Ward 4. Third, the council will soon need to make another appointment when Jessica Milsap steps down to become the director of the city’s new economic development non-profit.
On top of this, going into the election one seat was already filled by appointment when Barry Bowers was appointed last July to fill Chad Sommers’s, Ward 2 seat.
That means soon, three out of the eight seats on the Great Bend City Council will be filled by appointees, not elected candidates.
Monday night, Angela Delgado Sycz, a citizen of Ward 4, and one of the many recipients of write-in votes for the vacant Ward 4 seat, addressed the council concerning this unusual state of affairs. While we can’t go into great detail here, anyone who wants to can view her speech on the city’s Facebook page on the video of the Feb. 3 meeting (https://www.facebook.com/gbcitycouncil/videos/214294033070975/).
Sycz pointed out, regardless of ward, how the appointment system has the potential to disenfranchise voters. She also asked the council to take action, and consider how it can better define the process they use in selecting appointees in the future.
She came with statistics from the Great Bend Greater than Great Vision Plan to drive home the point that many of the citizens of Ward 4 are racial minorities and are living in poverty, more so than any other ward in the city, and are highly susceptible to social vulnerabilities like crime and drugs. They need representation that understands their needs, something she felt the committee had fallen short on when making its appointment decision. To underscore this, she pointed out the lack of Hispanic faces on the council. She was met with resistance by Mayor Cody Schmidt, who identified himself as half-Hispanic.
Before she took her seat, Sycz asked on behalf of her community that the city council take Ward 4’s request seriously, to discuss what can be done, and come back to the community and share what next steps will be undertaken.
We hope the council will not simply dismiss this request. Race is a sensitive issue in America and in Great Bend. Poverty is as well. But the issues that Sycz raises are valid beyond the borders of Ward 4. Reasonable steps can be taken to better define a process so that all voters will benefit going forward.