City of Wichita lacks Latino representation in positions of leadership
Wichita Kansas | November 4th, 2023
By José Salcido & Claudia Amaro
According to the Pew Research, the U.S. population grew by 24.5 million from 2010 to 2022, and Latinos accounted for 53% of this increase – a greater share than any other racial or ethnic group.
In 2018, the Kansas Health Foundation shared a demographics report, which showed that the Latino population in the Wichita metropolitan area is projected to more than quadruple from 82,208 to 354,358 between 2016 and 2066 – an increase of more than 331 percent.
Between 2051 and 2056, Wichita is expected to become a majority/minority region, meaning less than half the population will be non-Hispanic White.
Planeta Venus wanted to explore the Latino participation in leadership positions in the city of Wichita. The following chart delineates the demographic distribution of City of Wichita employees, capturing specifics on race, ethnicity, and gender. The accompanying chart depicts comparable data for departmental directors and their immediate subordinates. A striking detail from this data, obtained from the City of Wichita via a Kansas Open Records Request, highlights the absence of Latino representation among the top seventy-seven salaried employees in the city. According to the data provided there are zero Latinos in top City of Wichita jobs.
The data shows a lack of Latino representation within both city's higher-ranking positions and the City Council. This comes to light particularly as the Latino community marks the most significant and rapidly growing ethnic group in Wichita. Although the chart shows active employees as of October 11, 2023, looks like the provided data is not entirely correct as the Director of Parks and Recreation, and the Director of the Airport, both of Latino descent, were not included in the data or did not identify as Latino.
The illusion of a seventh district
The issue of representation was further discussed in a conversation with Council Member Brandon Johnson of District One, who is the sole ethnic minority on the Council.
Mr. Johnson shared insights into the changing demographics of zip code 67214, now home to a thirty-one percent Latino population. He noted that some areas are predominantly Latino. This recognition is mirrored in his bilingual (English and Spanish) business cards, illustrating a step towards inclusivity.
During the interview, Council Member Johnson vocalized his advocacy for expanding the number of Districts in Wichita. This, he believes, could potentially enhance the chances of a Latino candidate joining the City Council. However, he imparted valuable advice and insights that any City Council hopeful would find beneficial, Mr. Johnson said that as it is true in his case, “A candidate would benefit from knocking on doors in a district that is diverse”, as it was the case for him when he ran for his current office, since he represents not only Northeast Wichita, but College Hill, and parts of Downtown.
Council Member Johnson pointed out that redistricting happens every ten years. Since the council took up the matter last year, the following redistricting conversation will occur in 2032. Still, the Council can always bring it up for consideration vote any time before then.
Wichita Mayor, Brandon Whipple responded to some questions to our media via email. Mayor Whipple said, “The Wichita City Council is one of the smallest councils for a city our size, meaning each council member represents more residents than council members in other cities. Kansas City, Missouri has a council of 13, Topeka has 10, Tulsa and Oklahoma City have 9 members.” And he added “The City Councilmembers could be more responsive to residents and serve the unique needs of their district more easily if they represented fewer residents.” He shared that during the redistricting process this year, he wanted to add two more city council districts to get more representation on the council. According to him, Latinos in both the Northend and South Wichita would benefit from additional council districts.
The mayor also recognizes that Latinos are not represented at the top jobs within the City of Wichita so that is why he encourages the Human Resources Department to spend more time in our schools, and added, “Hispanics are a major part of our cultural fabric in Wichita and it’s important to me that story is told to our residents and visitors.”
Planeta Venus emailed the same questions as Mayor Whipple to the city of Wichita mayor candidate, Lily Wu but we did not get a response from her.
Promotions and better opportunities for Latinos
Planeta Venus talked to Esau Freeman, Business Representative for Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 513. This union represents all the employees in the city of Wichita that are not in management positions or supervisors.
Freeman recognizes that the issues of diversity & inclusion in the city of Wichita have positively changed in the last few years but acknowledges that there is still a lot of ground to make up in this area as he expressed facing difficulty with seeing promotions with persons of color in general. He shared an example where he had an African American man approached him a few years ago with a documented piece of paper that had essentially the answers to the test to get certain position in the city of Wichita. The man claimed that this document was being handed out amongst all the Caucasians and was being kept from Latinos, Asians and African Americans. The Union took this case and helped this person to file an EEOC complaint, which process took years. “It took so long that the gentleman decided to go work for somebody else and frankly, the city lost a good employee,” said Freeman.
Freeman shares that he does not hear very often from Latino employees unless there is an issue. He believes that in the end the city of Wichita loses more when they discriminate against underrepresented employees, because once those employees get tired, they are such good hard workers that they just move to a different job. “I think sometimes the city of Wichita doesn't realize how much they need those, quote and quote, low level employees that are fixing the roads, keeping the pipes working.”
When we brought up the conversations going on in the city about diversity and inclusion Freeman adds “it's easy to talk about things, and we all feel real good when we've talked it through. But I think what we miss is the plan of action.”
Freeman believes that opening more opportunities for Latinos and incentivizing them to be promoted within their departments could improve the representation of Latinos and people of color overall in the city of Wichita.