WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — KSN News sent a questionnaire to each candidate facing a challenger in the November general election. We have not made any edits to the candidate’s answers.
Mr. Ryan Baty was born and raised in Wichita, KS, graduating from Wichita Northwest High School in 1999. From there, Ryan received an athletic scholarship to play baseball at the University of Kansas where he studied Strategic Communications and History. From 2000-2004, Ryan achieved success on the baseball field as a three-time team captain as well as a multi-year All Conference (Big XII) and All-American selection. In 2004, Ryan was awarded the Jayhawk Scholar Athlete of the Year and shortly thereafter signed a professional contract with the Tampa Bay Rays organization.
In 2007, Ryan founded THE mattress HUB and quickly developed the company into a leading mattress retailer across the region. Aside from multiple business investments, Ryan also serves his community through a variety of non-profits and organizations that focus on issues such as Christian ministry, foster care, local schools and mental health.
Ryan earned a Master’s in Business Administration (MBA) from Newman University in 2014 and is recognized in the community as an innovative and transformative leader.
Ryan and his wife, Alicia, have three children – Reese, Landry and Rhett.
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What do you think should be done to help residents dealing with high costs?
Inflation and economic instability have created a very challenging environment for the vast majority of Americans. Rising costs disproportionately impacts small businesses, marginalized populations, working class families and those on fixed income. On the surface, the most important thing local government can do is be aware of the financial pressures and the negative impact any additional increases in fees or property taxes would have on our people and the economy. It’s also important to understand the proper balance of subsidy and where any additional assistance can be best directed. As a general rule, heavy subsidies are not a wise strategy to offset rising inflation, but local government has invested interest in making sure those in our community with the biggest needs have access and resources.
In regard to County Government, it’s also important to note that Sedgwick County employs around 3,000 people. These individuals aren’t isolated from rising costs in goods and services, so it’s imperative that the BOCC and Manager also take into consideration the wages of our staff and ensure they are seeing cost of living adjustments suitable for the market.
What can be done to improve the local economy?
There are significant issues facing Sedgwick County. We see challenges in public safety departments, surging crime, deteriorating mental health, and instability in our economic fundamentals. These issues are sizable and very complex. We are in a pivotal season and there is a heavy burden of responsibility on county leadership to move us forward in a meaningful way. The one thing that has become painfully obvious – We must grow our economy and the tax base in order to meet the needs of county government services. That growth can come without raising property taxes or cutting services.
There are several things the county can do, alongside city governments, to influence economic growth. The first is tax policy. Property tax policy in Kansas is complex and burdensome. I am an advocate for property tax reform that simplifies our code and incentivizes home ownership and development. The second is workforce pipelines. We must be able to attract and retain our future workforce. A healthy diversification of industry must have an upstream mechanism that produces the necessary human resources. We have those catalysts in our community with organizations like WSU Tech, KU Med, Vocational Schools, Labor Training Facilities and many, many others. A third option is to strengthen our partnership with cities. The 20 cities in Sedgwick County are the catalysts for economic development. The county should act more like the conduit. We need to strengthen our alliances, improve our channels of communication, and help champion their growth projects with our tools and support. Lastly, we need to lean heavier into our community partners. We have incredible organizations that work hard on development initiatives. The county should lean into these relationships with Greater Wichita Partnership, WSU Tech, Wichita Chamber of Commerce and other sizable employers. These are the groups that will fuel the growth and stability in our community and they need to see a valuable partner with the county.
What are your thoughts on Wichita’s decriminalizing marijuana and its effect on the County?
The recent situation with the City of Wichita and the decriminalizing of marijuana highlights a bigger, more glaring issue with local government – the lack of collaboration. When decisions are made that impact multiple cities, the county and the state, particularly in areas of criminal justice, there is a significant ripple effect. I believe it’s fully in the purview of the City to do what they perceive is in their best interest, but my frustration is in the lack of prior communication to other parties that are influenced by the decision. At this point, the County needs to have a study to understand what, if any, impact this will have on the Sheriff’s office, County Jail, District Attorney, and the Courts. The next step will be to engage talks with the other 19 cities in Sedgwick County to get a feel for their needs and concerns. From there, we can engage the City of Wichita with more information and take the appropriate actions to ensure county systems are able to adapt.
What do you want to see done regarding:
- Mental health issues in the community?
First, on the broad topic of community health, the County needs to form an Advisory Board of Health so that we can access the experts in the community that can advise on a broad range of topics, including mental and behavioral health. Local governments have advisory boards for a large number of topics and I was surprised to see that this is currently missing.
Second, we have to clearly define goals. “Solving” our growing mental health crisis isn’t a practical expectation, but we can reduce stigma through awareness and broaden access of resources to those in need. Those are measurable goals that we can build strategy around.
Lastly, we have to modernize our approach. COMCARE, our county mental health provider, is down 175-200 full time employees and the pipeline to backfill all these positions simply doesn’t exist. The result? We aren’t able to meet the growing needs of our community and in turn we aren’t prepared for what’s coming 3, 5, 10 years down the road. I believe we can “Re-Think Comcare” in a way that better collaborates with the significant number of non profits and other community partners to help meet the need. That is the basis behind the relationship with a new Crisis Center and the proposed Social Hub/Campus concept. We also have to think long term about the effective pipeline to supply the human resources needed to meet the demand. This is why the prospect of the KU/WSU Health Science Center is so appealing because of the long term, generational impact it could have on our community approach. The path to addressing our mental health crisis is going to take a wide-scale, collaborative approach and a new generation of leadership will be needed to see it through.
- Fentanyl? Drug addiction?
As a parent of three school age kids, this is one of the issues that keeps me up at night. This is also one of the many examples of how we cannot silo issues in our community. There is so much connectedness and overlap with issues – the Economy influences mental health; mental health influences things like substance use and homelessness; and education, affordable housing, food security – all of these things have an influence on the other.
We are seeing the opioid crisis play out with overdose deaths and surging crime. This is truly a growing crisis and I think the public needs to see it as such. A few practical action steps from the county are:  We do need to make significant progress in mental health resources including Comcare’s new crisis center and leaning more into the community partnerships that are doing services in this space;  I think we need to do everything we can to make sure the Sheriff has the resources needed to run our jail. He’s down over 100 deputies and can’t enact some of the necessary reforms needed to deal with the vast majority of the jail population that is battling substance misuse. Find stability first, then we can enact much needed reforms; and  It’s not a direct county issue but we typically have to deal with the fallout so it quickly becomes a county issue, but we need to continue pressuring our state partners to make progress with foster care reform. We talk so frequently about getting upstream to solve problems before they end up in our jail, but there are over 1200 foster kids in Sedgwick County and data suggests that a significant proportion of them will end up in our criminal justice system at some point in their lives. We have both a moral and economic imperative to make much needed progress for these kids.
Again, it’s not possible to silo issues in our community. There is significant overlap and connectedness to the key determinants influencing mental health, substance misuse and homelessness. There are two key things I believe the County could do to positively influence the issues surrounding homelessness.
The first is a strengthened partnership with the City of Wichita. Currently, the County gets two grants totaling around $750k that are directed towards homelessness and affordable housing. The City of Wichita is already doing substantial work in the space and instead of standing up a new program from the County, I would be in favor of combining efforts and better resourcing/reinforcing the work that the City is already doing. The second action from the County is to actually deliver progress on these mental health initiatives – particularly the social hub/campus concept that collaborates our COMCARE Crisis Center with partners in the non profit spaces. A large proportion of those experiencing homelessness in our downtown core are also suffering from mental illness and substance misuse. Creating awareness and broadened access to resources would be a significant step in better serving our homeless populations.
What are your thoughts on:
- Sedgwick County law enforcement?
In large part, we have very dedicated and honorable professionals serving in the Sheriff’s Department. Due to staffing shortages, many of these commissioned deputies have been required to do mandatory overtime filling shifts in our jail. That has severely impacted morale and our ability to retain our staff in the department. Recent wage increases were overdue and will help reinforce stability in the department.
- The jail?
The jail is one of the biggest issues facing Sedgwick County Government. On top of the surging crime in our community, we have over 1500 inmates currently sitting in our jail, including 117 murder suspects, and yet we are down over 100 deputies to properly staff daily operations. Due to the staffing crisis, our Sheriff is severely limited in his capacity to enact much needed reforms in how we deal with inmates struggling through mental health and substance addiction. I’m advocating for a stability first approach that gets the Sheriff the resources he needs to effectively run the jail. Once we find stability, I will work alongside the Sheriff to help him accomplish reforms that can modernize and complement our community approach.
- Juvenile detention?
Our juvenile detention system has faced increased scrutiny due to the heartbreaking incident with CJ Lofton. Shortly after, we also saw the temporary closing of the Juvenile Residential Facility (JRF) due to staffing shortages. The community taskforce highlighted multiple items needed at JAIC and the detention facility – and I’m an advocate for seeing those recommendations through to completion including stronger mental health support.
The conversation surrounding juvenile detention also highlights the underlying need of foster care reform. We have over 1200 Sedgwick County kids in our foster care system and data shows that a high percentage of them will end up in the criminal justice system at some point in their lives. We need to continue pressuring our state partners to enact reforms and stand up better support systems for these kids and the families in the system.
Lastly, we are also seeing greater mental health needs in our youth. There are key social determinants that are connected to juvenile crime that cannot be overlooked. USD 259 has 70% of children living below the poverty line and graduation rates are lagging. I’m an advocate for community partnerships and collaborations that can help us better meet the needs of our children.
What are your thoughts on election integrity in Sedgwick County? Across the United States? Would you change the election process, and how?
I believe that we do a good job in Sedgwick County with election security. Is the process perfect? No. There are always ways we can improve and I would work with our Election Commissioner and Secretary of State’s Office to advocate for safe, secure and accessible elections. This underscores the need for transparent government and how hard elected officials must work to ensure the confidence of our citizens. One practical approach to help provide confidence is to ensure that the state and county are appropriately funding the Elections Department so that we can provide adequate resources to run efficient elections.
In regard to national elections, I think we do a good job in Kansas and wish other states across the country adopted some of the measures we take here to improve voter confidence.
What do you consider to be the biggest issues facing Sedgwick County, and how would you address them?
We are a community in crisis. We see instability in public safety departments like EMS, County Fire and the Sedgwick County Jail, as well as complex structural problems facing public health departments like COMCARE. All of this with the backdrop of surging crime, substance abuse and mental health challenges. We also see stagnation economically. Soaring inflation and increases in property taxes have left our small business community and working-class families feeling the squeeze. On top of these challenges, we have all seen what the toxic political environment has done to the relational health of this community. We are more divided than ever before and the lack of civility has stagnated our progress.
That’s why I’m asking for our people in district 4 to vote for me. I have the experience to help our community navigate a very pivotal season. I also have the relational capital with colleagues on the commission, staff, non-profits and our business communities to build the support and make progress on our most pressing needs. Sedgwick County needs leadership that is committed to collaboration and civility.