A voter operates a voting machine in the foreground. Other voters cast paper ballots at booths in the background.
Voters cast their ballots at Argentine Community Center in the 2022 primary election. All Wyandotte County voters will see at least one Unified Government race on Nov. 7, 2023. (Zach Bauman/The Beacon)

Wyandotte County voters will decide Unified Government’s District 1 at-large seat on Nov. 7. The winner of this election will face decisions about how taxpayer dollars are spent and how the county’s chief governing body will address issues like safety, housing and property taxes.

Incumbent Melissa Bynum is defending her seat against challenger Ricky Smith. The at-large position is one of five on the ballot in an election for half of the Board of Commissioners.

Both candidates live in the city’s 1st At-Large District, which covers the northern half of the county, including regular districts 1, 4, 5 and 8.

The Unified Government has been the primary governing body for Kansas City, Kansas, and the rest of Wyandotte County for 25 years. Ten members make up the Board of Commissioners, which makes decisions affecting the budget, the police department and development.

The Beacon reached out to all candidates in the five commissioner races in the Wyandotte County election, asking them to answer a three-part questionnaire. The questionnaires include biographical questions, five lightning-round yes-or-no questions and five short-answer policy questions. Some responses have been lightly edited for length or clarity.

Click on a link to jump to a question:

Meet the candidates

Melissa Bynum

Photo of Melissa Bynum
Incumbent Melissa Bynum (Provided photo)

Bynum is the executive director of the Shepherd’s Center of Kansas City, Kansas, a nonprofit that promotes and supports successful aging.

Favorite place to get tacos in KCK: Tarahumara and El Camino Real

Favorite thing to do or favorite festival in KCK: My favorite thing to do is anything I am doing with my family. So many festivals! I can’t pick one, but Silver City Days in Argentine a few weeks ago was amazing! We also really enjoy the Wyandotte County Fair.

Ricky Smith

Smith, who owns a barbecue business, did not respond to the questionnaire.

On his campaign Facebook page, Smith says he will advocate for lower taxes, lower utility rates, more development in the urban core and senior and youth services. 

Lightning round questions

Candidates were asked for a yes-or-no position in response to these four questions:

  1. Should the Department of Justice investigate the Kansas City, Kansas, Police Department?
  2. Should officials be allowed to hold more than one elected position at a time?
  3. Should the Board of Commissioners have limited the mayor’s powers in February 2023?
  4. Should housing developments receiving tax incentives be required to include units at affordable rent prices? 
  5. Should the Unified Government remove the PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) fee from BPU bills and recoup that revenue elsewhere?

How would you increase affordable housing in Wyandotte County?

Bynum: Work with landlords to accept the 400 or so unused KCK Housing Authority vouchers. Adopt a community benefits agreement ordinance for housing projects. Hire a housing specialist and update housing policies in the Unified Government (in process). Look for best practices in other communities. Update land bank policies (in process). Seek and apply for all available state and federal housing grants and funding. Work with the area transit authority to bring forward transit-oriented community development.

What would you do to improve public safety?

Bynum: Continued support for the partnership between community groups, neighborhood groups, KCKPD Community Policing and Property Maintenance division (code enforcement). Continued support for Chief Karl Oakman’s crime reduction efforts and efforts to engage with the community. Violent crime is showing significant decreases with his leadership.

Would you do anything to make property tax assessment more fair?

Bynum: Tax assessments and valuations are the job of the appointed county appraiser, following state law. We will work with not only our local delegation, but other state lawmakers to change statutes governing property valuation. For example, limits on the percent increase a property may undergo in one valuation year. These discussions are underway now.

What should the Unified Government do to address the issue of rising houselessness?

Bynum: Support our local nonprofit organizations who are working tirelessly every day to house and provide wraparound services for unhoused individuals and families. Working with Mid-America Regional Council, create a comprehensive (regional) homelessness strategy and potential funding for a housing coordinator around services to the unhoused. Secure a new location for the Willa Gill Center and a permanent home for a cold weather shelter.

If elected, what issues will you make your own?

Bynum: Lowering of the PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) — current and ongoing; PILOT relief for older adults and disabled was adopted on Oct. 12 from a task force I led. Now, I want to work on lowering the PILOT for all and separating needed Unified Government user fees away from the utility bill. Continued efforts to lower the mill levy rates, including working with other local taxing entities such as the community college and school districts, and work with state leadership to balance property valuation methods. Continued support for strengthening animal services — including hiring needed staff.

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Josh Merchant is The Kansas City Beacon's local government reporter. After graduating from Seattle University, Josh attended Columbia Journalism School, earning a master’s degree in investigative journalism....