Yesterday (August 27, 2008) I testified briefly at a meeting of the Sedgwick County Commission opposing the formation of a tax increment financing (TIF) district that will benefit a Wichita political insider. My concern that I wanted the commissioners to be aware of is was that the applicant, Wichita school board member Reverend Kevass Harding, has not acted in an open, transparent, and ethical manner.
Commissioner Dave Unruh said that he had thought that Harding was being open and transparent. I suppose if you’re a full-time county commissioner who, presumably, thinks about these matters on a full-time basis, and you have a staff of well-paid professionals to prepare reports and other documents for you, and you have an applicant who is seeking $2.5 million in taxpayer subsidy and would do just about anything to secure that sum, you probably don’t have any problems finding out what you want to know.
But for average citizens who don’t watch county commission meetings on television, who don’t pour over the minutes of the meetings, and who may not read the sketchy coverage of this matter in newspapers, they won’t be aware of what’s going on.
This is another example of how many members of the Wichita City Council and the Sedgwick County Commission are out of touch with the citizens they govern. Three of the last three county commissioners to face the voters for re-election have been defeated. A fourth faces an opponent this November.
My remarks from yesterday:
The concern I have with the formation of this TIF district is that the applicant may be using his political connections for profit, and he has not been forthright with his constituents and the community.
The Wichita school board, of which Reverend Kevass Harding is a member, is required, as is this commission, to consent to the formation of this TIF district. The problem is that since no vote is required by the school board, how can we ask him to declare his conflict of interest and recuse himself from discussion and a vote?
He told the Wichita City Council that he had told city staff and his colleagues on the school board of what he was doing, but it’s not to them that he has en ethical obligation. Instead, his obligation is to the residents of Sedgwick County, the City of Wichita, and USD 259. It is to them that he has the ethical obligation to make sure that this matter is handled with openness and transparency. To my knowledge, he has not done that.
This smacks of a political insider using his connections for personal profit.
Furthermore, the applicant has not been responsive to community concerns over this TIF district. I am Reverend Harding’s constituent, as he is the at-large school board member for USD 259, and I am a resident of that school district. He has not returned my several telephone calls and email messages regarding this matter.
For these reasons, I urge this commission to veto the formation of this TIF district. Let the applicant apply again, this time being open and forthright with the citizens of Sedgwick County, and perhaps this matter can be viewed differently.