2017 primary mayoral candidate: Spencer Duncan

Topeka mayoral candidate Spencer Duncan responds to a question at Wednesday night’s mayoral candidate forum. (Adam Cole/The Capital-Journal)

Why are you running for mayor?

 

I’m a lifelong Topekan frustrated with the lack of follow through and stalled momentum that continues to keep our city from reaching its full potential. We have wonderful people doing tremendous things in our communities, yet too often city hall fails to support those efforts. I’m a native Topekan who understands the needs of our different communities and history of each community. I have family and friends living in different areas of Topeka who will hold me accountable for the things I say, the work I do and decisions I make. I’m also a Topekan for the long haul — getting married here in October, raising a family here, investing in businesses here. I’m not going anywhere and am committed to working with all Topekans to improve our city and make it a better place.

What do you see as being the key issues in this election? Without going into too much detail, where do you stand on them?

Jobs, quality of life and infrastructure. We have a jobs crisis and fixing it must be a top priority We must: strengthen workforce programs; enhance incentive programs to recruit new companies; create lending programs to help current businesses expand; develop public/private partnerships that create incubators; and foster new business ideas from young professionals and established business owners. In regards to quality of life: better wages; access to health care; more affordable housing; support equality initiatives; improve public transportation; better senior care; continue to improve pathways, bikeways, parks; expedite development of areas such as NOTO, Downtown and areas around the Expocentre; increase public/private partnerships for existing venues such as Discovery Center, Civic Theater, TPAC, Combat Air Museum, Heartland Park, etc.; and develop an event center for travelling national and international exhibits. By improving quality of life, we attract new employers. Roads and infrastructure must also be addressed in a way that does not increase taxes or take money from services. It can be done!

At a time when Topeka tied its homicide record last year and is on pace to set a new one this year, what do you suggest doing about crime?

The lack of public discussion on this issue by elected officials is bothersome. We must be aggressive to reduce crime. Several initiatives, in no particular order: deal more aggressively with abandoned properties which become hubs for criminal activity; support police by ensuring they have the tools and support they need; invest in programs that reduce recidivism; work with businesses to help nonviolent felons find jobs; solve the issue of phone apps that allow criminals to hear police radio activity in real time; ensure city prosecutors are not allowing the same individuals to repeatedly take diversions or probation and get back on the street without adequate punishment; assist community watch programs; respect residents in high crime neighborhoods; take bullying seriously; aggressively investigate burglaries; support youth programs that keep kids productive; and elected officials must spend more time in communities to better understand the underlying reasons for criminal activity, so we know what programs to put in place to actually address the issues.

What’s your stance regarding city government investment in the revitalization of downtown Topeka?

Downtown revitalization will serve our city well. Developing it into a commercial and entertainment district serves a need in our community. We must foster strong public/private partnerships. The key is to make sure we invest in the right areas. We must spend dollars on actual business development, remove/repair blighted properties and solve parking issues. This means setting up additional loan programs for businesses to access capital and adding digital app payment-based parking programs along with new parking options. The Downtown Plaza should include a splash pad that rivals any in the Midwest. They attract visitors, are inexpensive, don’t use much water, can be turned off and on easily, don’t require staffing and allow for other events. We must also get away from the either/or scenario we have created when we talk about downtown. A revitalized downtown must part of a larger vision for Topeka’s future, not our only future. We must do a better job of developing, promoting and completing multiple projects simultaneously. Focusing on one project too often takes momentum away from other projects and creates a “downtown vs. everything else” mentality among our communities that is not productive.

What do you think of the current version of the proposed 2018 city budget, for which the city’s governing body plans to hear public comments Aug. 8 and consider taking action Aug. 15?

We cannot operate government like a business because government must take care of people. However, we can use business principles to operate parts of government. The primary function of city government is to take care of citizens. The proposed budget takes money from services, economic development, arts and quality of life in favor of road projects. We are funding roads through a special sales tax, a motor fuel fund, general tax collection and now taking money from services. Roads must be a priority. But throwing money at the problem is not solving our problem. Before we take money from programs that help people and improve quality of life, we must fundamentally change our approach to road projects by altering our methodology. Otherwise, we are headed down a path in which we continually take money from areas that help citizens while still not fundamentally solving our road issues. I have proposed specific methods to improve our road program at www.duncanfortopeka.com Additionally, the city should hold public budget meetings before, not just after, the budget is proposed. This would give the city a better sense of where citizens prioritize spending. Then propose a budget and hold final citizen forums. The current method sets up a defensive mentality on all sides instead of a cooperative discussion that ensures citizen priorities are considered.

What do you think Topeka’s city government does well?

There are many positive programs supported by the city that improve the lives of citizens. These often go unnoticed and city employees who direct the programs do not get enough credit for their efforts. They include efforts such as the Neighborhood Revitalization Plan, Emergency Home Repair Program, Accessibility Program, Shelter Plus Care and support for Neighborhood Improvement Associations, to name a few. SeeClickFix has been a tremendous program, allowing citizens to instantly send problems to city staff often with quick resolution. In an election, the discussions often turn to the things we can do better, which is natural. But we must not lose focus of the fact that there are areas our city is not failing and it is filled with devoted public employees who work every day to better Topeka.

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