Karen Hiller has spent 12 years on Topeka City Council, but she has more projects she wants to accomplish.
TOPEKA, Kan. – Council member Karen Hiller has been in her seat for 12 years, but there is still more work she wants to do.
“I’m a worker. I just want to get in there and work,” she said. “I’m not somebody who is going to go after the flash in the pan, one-time issue.”
Hiller is running for re-election to Topeka’s 1st District seat. Hiller has lived in Topeka for decades and raised her three children Michael, Bryan and Neil here.
She previously worked as executive director of the nonprofit Housing and Credit Counseling Services Inc., which provides a variety of financial and housing counseling services.
What have you done during your 12 years on Topeka City Council?
Hiller mentioned dozens of things she has completed on city council, which included being involved in “all aspects” of downtown redevelopment, street development, riverfront upgrades and overhauled animal control ordinances, among others.
Hiller has served on the Joint Economic Development Organization, which was established in 2001. She chairs the Public Health and Safety Committee, which is examining broadband access in Topeka, and she is a member of the Police and Community Committee, which is reviewing the Topeka Police Department.
“I have steadily learned more and more,” she said. “The council changes every two years, (and) we have changes in staff as well. It has been really helpful to bring to this position the institutional history of the city.”
Hiller said she is deeply embedded in her neighborhoods and said every neighborhood in her district has improved since she was first elected. She said being accessible to constituents and making government run more efficiently have been hallmarks of her time in office.
In 2012, trust in the Topeka City Council was low, and people were embarrassed to live in the city, Hiller said.
“People’s spirit about the city and about city government was at an all-time low,” she said. “Tapes of our council meetings were used as how not to run a city government.”
Hiller said Topeka City Council runs more efficiently now, which fulfilled one of her first campaign promises to fix the city’s governmental issues.
What do you still want to do in office?
Hiller said working with neighborhood investment and code compliance are some issues she is hoping to address in her next term, if re-elected. She said she has already been working on those issues but said remaining on council allows her to ensure they are done properly.
“It takes time to get some things done,” she said. “It’s not just policy. You can’t just pass it … and have things happen.”
Hiller was part of a group reimagining neighborhood investment and rethinking the Stages of Resource Targeting Grant. That grant provides money to one neighborhood improvement association each year, but has been compared to winning the lottery because only one of the nearly two dozen NIAs is awarded the $1.7 million each year.
Hiller is hoping the DREAMS program can provide neighborhood groups better access to local government to advocate on their behalf. DREAMS isn’t yet in place, The Capital-Journal reported April 30, but a smaller DREAMS Grant is providing $200,000 to a variety of neighborhoods after launching this year.
Hiller also touted her budget savvy and wants to get caught up on city projects that are lagging behind. She said there are a variety of infrastructure projects, such as curb and gutter projects, that are being funded with debt services funds. She said even though “she wants everything,” she wants to fund improvements without raising taxes.
“They don’t belong there long-term,” she said. “A big challenge this season is to get those addressed, get them current and get that stuff out of there and into the operating budget for prevention and maintenance.”