The Derby Recreation Commission’s answer to a public outcry on staff directives given allowing transgender individuals to enter a locker room of the gender they identify with came down to safety and increased privacy.
At a Feb. 28 special meeting, DRC board members voted unanimously to accept a policy that identified a multitude of safety protocols, surveillance equipment and methods of security used to keep patrons safe. According to Superintendent Chris Drum, most of these measures are already in place and have been for years.
The new policy says nothing specifically in terms of locker or bathroom admittance as it refers specifically to the transgender population.
When DRC Superintendent Chris Drum was questioned after the meeting on what action would be taken if a known transgender individual walked into the locker room or restroom of the gender they identify with, and not their birth gender, he responded with the following statement:
“That patron would be respectfully asked to use the universal/private locker room. Any guest requesting additional accommodations or support would be encouraged to contact the DRC Director of Facilities to set up a meeting so that we could learn more about that request,” Drum explained.
The DRC board voted to approve the document as presented, changing only the name of it to The Derby Recreation Commission Policy for Locker Room and Restroom Expectations.
More than 150 patrons showed up for a public meeting earlier in February, expressing their concerns with DRC staff directives given about transgender locker room use. The concerns from parents and grandparents ranged from safety to morality to the overall awkwardness of a potential situation, especially with children.
Board member Rick Ruff said people need to take the bathroom access issue to their state and federal leaders.
“Until the state or federal politicians establish law, this is a very gray area. This is an issue the politicians need to decide,” Ruff explained.
Drum said that he is currently working with architects on how to repurpose some space in order to create additional private shower rooms. Right now, there is only one private shower room in the main facility.
Drum said that ideally these spaces would include a shower, toilet, sink and enough space for a changing area. The spaces being considered are adjacent to the pool and current locker rooms, near existing infrastructure such as plumbing for water supply and sewer.
Drum says the additional spaces would be intended as accommodations for all, including those who desire increased privacy for individuals and families.
The DRC currently has a universal/private locker room that is heavily used during swimming lessons by parents with children. Additional private shower rooms could assist families and cut down on wait times.
Board member Eric Tauer said the board shares the public concern and interest in privacy and safety.
“Many of the comments in the Feb. 14 public meeting were spot on in terms of common sense desires and expectations. Other messages were so negative that it was evident that no matter what we do there will be no satisfying these extremists,” Tauer said.
The DRC board has had meetings with attorneys to better understand the options they have, in consideration of the public’s recent feedback. Tauer calls the guidance staff gave in January to be lawful, legal and a good faith effort to respond to a couple of initial inquiries that caught them all off guard.
“I admit it fell short in anticipating the public’s response. The document under consideration tonight does a better job creating a framework for expectations,” Tauer said.
Tauer went on to point out that the document states that inappropriate or threatened behavior would not be tolerated and asked that anyone who does feel threatened or unsafe to immediately notify DRC staff.
“My expectation is that the DRC will take every allegation seriously and I request that details of every allegation and findings be reported by administrative staff to the board, so we are aware and can take additional action if appropriate,” Tauer said.
Ruff indicated he was amazed that what transpired a number of weeks ago mushroomed into an issue that questions the 43-year credibility of the DRC. He said the DRC was in a no-win situation.
“There is no easy solution that is going to please A through Z. That’s the reality of what this is,” he said.
Crime, over the past year, was up slightly (2%) in Derby. That is according to a report Derby Police Chief Robert Lee presented to the City Council at its most recent meeting on Feb. 28.
Reporting changes played a role in those increased numbers, but Lee noted the city has seen an uptick in specific types of crimes. The Derby PD is taking measures to address that in 2023 and beyond.
Of the types of crimes growing in Derby, Lee noted both cases and arrests at Derby High School and the middle schools went up dramatically in the past year. Primarily, that was related to vaping and tobacco violations.
While on the more minor end of a national trend, that points to the drug crimes that remain a pressing concern for Derby PD and other departments across the country. Though not related to vaping, the new K9 unit being formed in Derby will help with some of those drug cases.
Lee said he “has no doubt” that drugs are being trafficked through the community on a daily basis. With the introduction of the K9 unit, he expects that to have a significant impact on that type of crime.
“I think you’ll see probably some significant drug seizures because people will not be used to there being a drug dog in Derby, and historically these dogs tend to produce results,” Lee said. “Really what it’s all about is community safety, and this dog is just another tool that we have to do that.”
Derby PD’s canine team member, Jax (recently named through a public contest), and handler Officer Dylan Bible will begin training this month with the goal to start patrols in July. On top of drug cases, the K9 unit will also be called in to help with barricaded persons and felony searches.
Like certain drug cases, theft was in the rise in Derby in 2022, with such cases increasing by 13% over the past year.
A number of factors played into the growing number of theft cases, including the courts’ backlog on felony cases. A big factor, though, was Derby PD’s own staffing. Bringing staff numbers up will help with theft deterring efforts (like the department’s shoplifting reduction team), and Lee noted getting school resource officers back in the summer will start to help.
“With thefts being particularly problematic, we have the shoplift reduction team and other efforts in place to try and keep a lid on thefts,” Lee said. “Thefts are really out of control across the country. We see more professionals shoplifting today than we ever have in the past in Derby.”
One major success in addressing theft that Lee pointed to are the Flock license plate cameras throughout Derby. In the first full year of use, the Flock cameras helped recover 13 stolen vehicles at a total value of $1.2 million, leading to 35 arrests.
Through the Flock cameras, Lee noted Derby PD can set its own alerts while also helping outside agencies with active cases. With some help from U.S. Senator Jerry Moran, Lee noted funding was set aside to add nine more cameras in 2023 – bringing the total in Derby up to 16.
“It’s probably one of the most successful technologies in law enforcement that I’ve seen in my career,” Lee said.
Additional measures Lee will be pushing for during the next budget cycle include a motorcycle unit and drone program for Derby PD.
While traffic accidents were down (4%) in 2022, injuries from accidents were up (5%). As Derby grows, the sheer traffic volume continues to put a premium on safety – with Lee noting motorcycles have proven to be the “most effective tool for traffic enforcement.”
Having current staff already well-versed in drone usage, Lee pointed out that could also enhance the department’s future response to a number of cases. No longer having access to a nearby police helicopter, that has become more of a pressing need.
“The drone provides us with a lot of things that we can’t normally do,” Lee said. “A drone program is advantageous for us to have.”
Cases Lee projected a drone could help with include missing children/adults (especially at night), wanted persons on the run, active shooters, etc.
At the start of 2023, Derby’s Kelsi Fugit decided to turn a passion into a business pursuit. Noticing a lack of certain products, the proof was on the shelves – leading Fugit to launch her own home bakery.
“I’ve always baked since I was a kid. Cooking and baking is just fun for me; it’s kind of an outlet,” Fugit said. “I started noticing that I cannot find a good artisan sourdough around here, like I did in California, so I started making my own, and then, it just kind of branched off from there. I wanted to share with our local community the different breads and pastries that I can make.”
Following high school graduation, Fugit attended culinary school at the Art Institute of Sacramento. Then, she and her family moved to Derby in 2019.
This past year, Fugit decided to put her past training into action and formed Thyme and Twine Bread Co. Currently, she is selling out of her home and taking orders through her Facebook page. She offers her signature sourdough along with a cheddar chive dill bread that has quickly become a customer favorite. In total, there are about 10 selections offered.
Passionate as Fugit is about baking, she admitted she loves seeing customers’ reaction to her cooking as well, which is part of what motivates her. Fugit noted she had one customer ask her to recreate a recipe for her father’s onion bread – digging in and researching to get it just right.
“She said that brought back so many memories for her, and that is exactly why I do it,” Fugit said.
Outside of her own business, Fugit also helps support other entrepreneurial efforts throughout the Derby community, running the Small Businesses Derby USA Facebook group since 2021. She also held the inaugural Derby Small Business Fair in 2022, with plans to expand those efforts this year.
With the group, Fugit noted she saw the limitations for business posts within the Derby Chatter page and wanted to give local entrepreneurs more of a chance to get their voice out there. Having pursued other pursuits previously, she was aware of the challenges.
“I understood how hard it was to really get the name of your business out there, and I wanted to help support a lot of those local small businesses,” Fugit said.
Hosting the small business fair was another similar opportunity, with that effort quickly growing in 2023. Fugit said the first fair will be held June 17 at the Hubbard Arts Center, with a second to be held on Small Business Saturday in November.
Fugit noted the June event has already doubled the number of vendors for 2023 (adding a few food trucks as well), and the fair will also extend its hours for further exposure. Potential vendors looking to get involved can email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Since moving to Derby, Fugit noted she and her family have felt the support of the community, with these efforts a way to pay that back and “enrich that sense of community.” Personally, she plans to keep growing Thyme and Twine Bread Co. and hopes the Facebook group and fair can help others in a similar way.
“I know a lot of small businesses are stay-at-home parents, and this is their source of income or even their passion. Me being a stay-at-home mom as well, that really hit home with me,” Fugit said. “For the community, my favorite phrase that I’ve heard is that when you shop small you’re supporting a dream. I really take that to heart because with this small business, Thyme and Twine Bread Co., it is really a dream of mine. We’re hoping one day to go brick and mortar even.”
For the past seven decades, through heat, cold, rain and snow, a group of sirens have turned in 24/7 duty throughout Sedgwick County. Known as "Thunderbolt sirens," the bright yellow devices – with their distinct shape of a narrow neck morphing into an oversized square horn – were the iconic symbol of the civil defense era of the 1950s. It was a time when the government and citizens alike were on edge about a possible Russian nuclear attack.
Over the years, some, but not all, have been replaced by more updated versions, and their roles have expanded from an air raid warning to vital storm and severe weather alerts.
There were about 80 Thunderbolt sirens in the county. While their numbers have decreased to about 60 now, they still have a role to play.
And among their group, four have been deemed as the oldest, still-operational such sirens in the world.
Their longtime service was highlighted in a March 4 ceremony at Sedgwick County Fire Station 32 in Park City.
That event showcased a Model T-1000 with serial number T-75 (denoting it was the 75th such unit produced), which was installed in 1953 at Kellogg and Rock Road.
The other three vintage devices, with their serial numbers, include:
• T-79, which started out at the Santa Fe Rail Shops and (sometime in the 1970s) was moved to Walker Avenue and Glenn streets. It is now part of a traveling exhibit county officials have put together to preserve the sirens' heritage.
• T-104, now at Wichita Fire Station 20, 2255 S. Greenwich. It started out at Douglas and Anna at Christ the King School.
• T-116, now at SCFS 38 at 1010 N. 143rd Street East. It began its service at the Planeview Community Building.
Now a part of local history
“Historical landmarks like this make our community interesting and unique," said Jonathan Marr, deputy director of Sedgwick County Emergency Management.
Feedback from local history buffs enforced that view.
They said, "you can't take these things down," Marr said.
With additional research, Marr found out and agreed that the sirens, made by Federal Signal Corp., are a part of local history.
However, it can be a challenge to keep them going because they don't make parts for them anymore, but the county is doing what it can to keep them operational – or at least hang on to them somehow.
"Faced with throwing non-operational Thunderbolts in the dumpster or reusing them, we couldn't really throw them out," he said.
The Thunderbolts have a higher pitch than newer sirens, but experts have found that the lower pitch sound actually travels a bit farther. Nonetheless, the Thunderbolts are loud and have proven to be effective.
In one early case of that, a Wichita Police sergeant in the 1950s ordered a Thunderbolt to sound and alert citizens to a dangerous storm, a move that officials said saved lives and is believed to be the first such use of the sirens. Sirens, once just viewed as alerts for air raids, soon became part of the warning systems of impending severe weather.
County officials add that sirens are meant for outdoor warnings and they are not designed to be heard inside. With that in mind, residents must avail themselves of numerous ways to stay alert in times of storm activity, such as staying tuned into local media or employing a weather-alert radio, they say.
But outdoors, the loyal Thunderbolts will remain vigilant and on duty as long as they can operate.
The Derby Community Foundation brought back the live version of its annual fundraiser in 2023, inviting guests to “Experience Greece” as part of the festivities at the end of February. Both the event itself and the fundraising efforts turned out to be hits.
Event tickets sold out and DCF Executive Director Theresa Hearn estimated the foundation raised around $30,000 through this year’s event. That is more than was raised through the virtual events the past two years and on par with the past in-person event held in 2020.
Proceeds from the event go toward the DCF’s community enrichment grants, which support other community endeavors around Derby.
With the food, drinks, entertainment and even raffle prizes centered on the “Experience Greece” theme, Hearn noted the return of the live event was a hit and the organization looks forward to continuing with the new format.
“Experience Greece was a success; we sold out of in-person tickets and have received a great deal of positive feedback about the event. The Greek theme was very well received, and we look forward to providing additional fundraisers in the coming years with other country themes,” Hearn said. "We were so pleased to see so many of our longtime supporters in attendance after a two-year hiatus and also very happy to have folks new to the DCF event attend.”