Wichita City Council says: “By allowing Cessna to avoid paying property taxes, we are showing our support for the company.”
“By requiring other companies to pay their full share of property taxes, we are showing our ________ for these companies.”
Yesterday’s action taken by the Wichita City Council regarding economic development incentives granted to Cessna Aircraft Company through the Industrial Revenue Bond program may be confusing to some people. The Wichita Eagle is not helping citizens understand what is happening when the city issues IRBs. The headline and lede of the article illustrate: “Wichita approves $40.2 million in industrial revenue bonds for Cessna improvements.”
The bonds are a sideshow and not economically relevant. In fact, Wichita has a related program called EDX that implements the benefits of IRBs without the charade of a company buying its own bonds. The Eagle gets around to this, explaining: “Industrial revenue bonds are issued by governments without any taxpayer liability, a type of municipal bond repaid from the proceeds of bond sales. They do not affect the tax revenue or the credit of the issuing governmental entity. The company will buy its own bonds.”
This explanation isn’t accurate, however. IRBs do affect the tax revenue of the issuing governmental entity, because property purchased under the program is exempt from property taxation, and often sales tax. The article does finally explain why Cessna is applying for the IRBs: “The value of the abated taxes could be as much as $37,197 for the first year.”
That — or something like it — should have been the headline to this article. The fact that Kansas law grants tax abatements for bond-purchased property is the only reason that Cessna applied for the IRB program. As Wichita City Council Member and Vice Mayor Pete Meitzner (district 2, east Wichita) explained from the bench and as quoted by the Wichita Eagle: “I’d like to confirm to the public that what we’re doing is voting to allow Cessna to purchase $40 million of their own bonds for all these improvements.”
I’m glad he understands. We still have to endure the spectacle of a governing body voting to allow a company to issue bonds that the company will purchase from itself. Perhaps someday we will have laws that allow a company to issue debt and purchase that same debt without governmental approval.
In remarks from the bench, several council members thanked Cessna for its commitment to Wichita. Wichita City Council Member James Clendenin (district 3, southeast and south Wichita) thanked Cessna for showing their commitment to Wichita, “as they have for decades.” I wonder: What do other business owners in Wichita who have to pay their full share of taxes think about Cessna’s commitment to Wichita?
Clendenin also expressed appreciation for their charitable nature and their “humongous” heart. I wonder: Why doesn’t Cessna pay the same taxes that everyone else has to pay so that we may keep more of our own money to be charitable as we see fit?
In their remarks, no member of the Wichita City Council made the argument that is often used to justify economic development incentives: economic necessity. No one proffered that absent these tax breaks, Cessna would be unwilling or unable to make this investment. No one wondered that given that Cessna is such a good corporate citizen, why does it ask to be excused from shouldering the same tax burden that almost everyone else has to bear?
No one spoke on behalf of the other business firms in Wichita that, when wanting to make an investment to expand and hire people, are not able to qualify for the type of favored treatment that companies like Cessna receive.
No one offered any evidence that these jobs are somehow different from other jobs in Wichita that area created every day without companies receiving special tax treatment.
No one argued that the tax burden should be applied fairly and evenly to everyone.
No one made the moral case for free enterprise — rather than cronyism and business welfare — as the way to grow and diversify the Wichita economy.
Wichita never seems to learn. Its government, that is.
The last time Key Construction was awarded a no-bid contract for building a parking garage in Wichita, it almost cost Wichita taxpayers an extra 27 percent. Now the Wichita City Council has done it again, awarding Key another no-bid contract for a project paid for by taxpayers.
In August 2011 the Wichita City Council voted to award Key Construction a no-bid contract to build the parking garage that is part of the Ambassador Hotel project, now known as Block One. The no-bid cost of the garage was to be $6 million, according to a letter of intent. Later the city decided to place the contract for competitive bid. Key Construction won the bidding, but for a price $1.3 million less.
Today the council voted to award Key another no-bid contract. City officials said that the garage is too intertwined with the rest of the project to be put out to bid. They said that in 2011, too.
After the 2011 incident, Wichita city manager Robert Layton told the Wichita Eagle that he would seek a policy change against no-bid contracts. But that didn’t happen today.
So taxpayers are likely to overpay again, and for a project benefiting a politically-connected firm.
There is hope for the taxpayers, however. After the 2011 award to Key, then-council member Michael O’Donnell objected. It’s said that Wichita City Council Member and Vice Mayor Pete Meitzner (district 2, east Wichita) also objected. That’s when the city decided to put the garage out to competitive bid and saved taxpayers $1.3 million.
It’s possible this could happen again. Meitzner was absent for today’s vote. New council member Jeff Blubaugh now represents the same district that O’Donnell did two years ago. Maybe Wichita taxpayers can ask O’Donnell to talk to Blubaugh about this. Perhaps as Meitzner prepares his bid to be the next mayor, he could use this as an opportunity to exercise leadership in favor of taxpayer stewardship instead of protecting the system of cronyism.
Key Construction and Mayor Carl Brewer
Should Mayor Carl Brewer have participated in voting on this matter? Here’s a section from the Wichita city code as passed in 2008:
“[Council members] shall refrain from making decisions involving business associates, customers, clients, friends and competitors.”
Wichita mayor Carl Brewer with major campaign donor Dave Wells of Key Construction.
This no-bid contract for the garage is just one of many subsidies and grants given to Key Construction and its partners at taxpayer expense. Key, its executives, and their spouses are heavy campaign contributors to nearly all city council members. Brewer and the head of Key Construction are apparently friends, embarking on fishing expeditions.
What citizens need to know is that Brewer and the Wichita City Council were willing to spend an extra $1.3 million of taxpayer money to reward a politically-connected construction firm that makes heavy campaign contributions to council members. Only one council member, Michael O’Donnell, voted against this no-bid contract. At the time, no city bureaucrats expressed concern about this waste of taxpayer money.
Then, in July 2012 Brewer participated in a decision to award the large contract for the construction of the new Wichita airport to Key Construction, despite the fact that Key was not the low bidder. The council was tasked to act in a quasi-judicial manner, to make decisions whether discretion was abused or whether laws were improperly applied. Brewer’s judgment was in favor of Key Construction, even though its bid had the same defect as the lower bid. This decision cost taxpayers and airport users an extra $2 million, to the benefit of a major campaign donor and fishing buddy.
In a Wichita Eagle story that reported on “city-financed downtown parking garages that spiraled well over budget” we learned this: “The most recent, the 2008 WaterWalk Place garage built by Key Construction, an original partner in the WaterWalk project, came in $1.5 million over budget at almost $8.5 million. That’s the biggest parking garage miss, according to figures from the city’s office of urban development, although the 2004 Old Town Cinema garage built by Key Construction came in almost $1 million over budget at $5.225 million.”
Despite this personal experience, Brewer wrote a letter recommending Key Construction (and only Key) for a project, observing “Key is known for their consistent quality construction, budget control and on schedule delivery.” The mayor’s recommendation is not consistent with the reality of Key’s experience with the City of Wichita.
Lavonta Williams and James Clendenin
Although city code has no prohibition against council members voting to enrich their significant campaign contributors with no-bid contracts, there ought to be such a law. And when the recipient company is a very significant contributor, we can’t help but wonder about the wisdom and stewardship exhibited by the council.
Those associated with Key Construction gave a total of $7,000. Williams received $4,000, and $3,000 went to Clendenin. For Williams, this was the only campaign money she received in 2012.
With relationships like these, can we have and confidence that the mayor and council are looking out for the interests of the citizens of Wichita, or for the interests of the significant campaign contributors and fishing buddies?
Citizens of Wichita are rightly concerned about whether our elected officials and bureaucrats are looking out for their interests, or only for the interests and welfare of a small group of city hall insiders. The video below explains, or click here to view in HD on YouTube. For an article on this topic, see Wichita performs a reference check, sort of.
Citizens of Wichita are rightly concerned about whether our elected officials and bureaucrats are looking out for their interests, or only for the interests and welfare of a small group of city hall insiders. Cronies, if you will.
A recent application filed with Wichita City Hall regarding the West Bank Development Project raises two questions: Did the government officials listed as references give their permission, and were any of the references contacted to learn what they knew about the applicants?
The application filed by the River Vista development team shows this: The team, consisting of George Laham, Dave Wells, Dave Burk, and Bill Warren listed numerous local, state, and federal officials as references. Here’s the list of officials that appeared one or more times:
Except for Jeff Easter, none of these officials gave permission for their names to be used in this way. (We didn’t get a response regarding Tim Norton.)
Furthermore, none of these officials were contacted by the evaluation committee whose job it is to vet these potential city partners.
A few questions: First, do you think it is appropriate for the city manager to be listed as a reference, given that anyone who reads this document would take it as an endorsement? No, of course it is not appropriate.
Related: Do you think it’s appropriate for the city manager to endorse one of the applicants? We don’t know if the presence of the city manager’s name as a reference implies an endorsement, because George Laham did not ask the city manager if he could be listed as a reference. We know this because we asked.
Further, the committee that evaluated the development teams did not call the city manager to inquire about George Laham. We asked about this, too. But making inquiries of references: Isn’t that what an evaluation committee or vetting team should do? But we know that the evaluation committee did not contact even one of these officials that were listed as references.
These applicants likely knew that the evaluation committee would not contact these references. Therefore, they freely listed these government officials. Which makes us wonder — what is the point of having an evaluation committee?
Even further: Is it appropriate for the city to partner with people who think it’s proper to list the city manager as a reference without asking if that was permissible, knowing that the manager wouldn’t be contacted? Same question regarding the mayor, governor, our U.S. Congressman, and district attorney?
In light of this — numerous government officials listed as references without their permission or knowledge, an evaluation committee that never contacted these officials, and the information that these references could have provided: Do you think the evaluation committee fulfilled its duty to perform due diligence on behalf of the interests of the people of Wichita?
What the evaluation committee might have learned
If the evaluation committee had contacted these references, here’s what might have been learned.
Dave Wells: Wells is president of Key Construction. Last year the Wichita Eagle reported on “city-financed downtown parking garages that spiraled well over budget.” Noting the cost overruns, reporter Bill Wilson wrote: “The most recent, the 2008 WaterWalk Place garage built by Key Construction, an original partner in the WaterWalk project, came in $1.5 million over budget at almost $8.5 million. That’s the biggest parking garage miss, according to figures from the city’s office of urban development, although the 2004 Old Town Cinema garage built by Key Construction came in almost $1 million over budget at $5.225 million.” (Wichita city manager proposes eliminating no-bid construction projects.)
Also, two years ago Key Construction proposed — and was awarded by the city council — a no-bid contract for a parking garage. But the city later put the contract to competitive bid. Key, which first bid $6 million, later bid $4.7 million. If the desire of the majority of the city council, including Mayor Carl Brewer, had been realized, Wichita taxpayers would have sent an extra — and unnecessary — $1.3 million to a politically-connected construction company.
Dave Burk, Dave Wells: These two were original partners in WaterWalk, which has received over $40 million in subsidy, with little to show for results.
Dave Burk: He’s received many millions from many levels of government, but still thinks he doesn’t get enough. This is what we can conclude by his appeal of property taxes in a TIF district. Those taxes, even though they are rerouted back to him for his benefit, were still too high for his taste, and he appealed. The Wichita Eagle reported in the article (Developer appealed taxes on city-owned property): “Downtown Wichita’s leading developer, David Burk, represented himself as an agent of the city — without the city’s knowledge or consent — to cut his taxes on publicly owned property he leases in the Old Town Cinema Plaza, according to court records and the city attorney.”
A number of Wichita city hall officials were not pleased with Burk’s act. According to the Eagle reporting, Burk was not authorized to do what he did: “Officials in the city legal department said that while Burk was within his rights to appeal taxes on another city-supported building in the Cinema Plaza, he did not have authorization to file an appeal on the city-owned parking/retail space he leases. … As for Burk signing documents as the city’s representative, ‘I do have a problem with it,’ said City Attorney Gary Rebenstorf, adding that he intends to investigate further.”
Council member Jeff Longwell was quoted by the Eagle: “‘We should take issue with that,’ he said. ‘If anyone is going to represent the city they obviously have to have, one, the city’s endorsement and … two, someone at the city should have been more aware of what was going on. And if they were, shame on them for not bringing this to the public’s attention.’”
The manager’s quote is most directly damaging. In a tax increment financing (TIF) district, the city borrows money to pay for things that directly enrich the developers, in this case Burk and possibly his partners. Then their increased property taxes — taxes they have to pay anyway — are used to repay the borrowed funds. In essence, a TIF district allows developers to benefit exclusively from their property taxes. For everyone else, their property taxes go to fund the city, county, school district, state, fire district, etc. But not so for property in a TIF district.
This is what is most astonishing about Burk’s action: Having been placed in a rarefied position of receiving many millions in benefits, he still thinks his own taxes are too high. Now he wants more city taxpayer subsidy.
Bill Warren: In 2008 the Old Town Warren Theater was failing and its owners — Bill Warren being one — threatened to close it and leave the city with a huge loss on a tax increment financing (TIF) district formed for the theater’s benefit. Faced with this threat, the city made a no-interest and low-interest loan to the theater. Reported the Wichita Eagle: “Wichita taxpayers will give up as much as $1.2 million if the City Council approves a $6 million loan to bail out the troubled Old Town Warren Theatre this week. That’s because that $6 million, which would pay off the theater’s debt and make it the only fully digital movie theater in Kansas, would otherwise be invested and draw about 3 percent interest a year.”
In his questions, Wichita City Council Member Paul Gray (district 4, south and southwest Wichita) asked whether the amount of public investment presented did, in fact, include all public investment.
In his answer, Scott Knebel, who is Downtown Revitalization Manager, said no, not all forms of public investment were included in the figures presented in the report. He told the council that an analysis is being prepared, perhaps to be available in May.
Gray urged Knebel to be more forthcoming when reporting on the level of public investment in order to gain a better level of community buy-in: “If you truly want a greater level of community buy-in, being as forthcoming as we can with the financial analysis of these projects and truly demonstrating what we as a community are putting in through all the different public financing mechanisms available. You may not persuade the people who don’t like public participation in projects — you’re not going to change their viewpoints by that and I don’t expect you to — but the difference is you may get more trust and buy-in from the community that thinks you’re not being forthcoming and honest with them.”
Regarding Wichita news media, Gray said the media may say “‘See, it’s a 90 percent private funded ratio versus 10 percent’ which is not really the case. We’re skewing actual numbers to demonstrate our successes downtown, but I think our successes downtown speak for themselves.”
Gray also asked about the city’s practice of building retail space and practically giving it away to developers, who can then lease the space and earn outsized returns at taxpayer expense. I reported this at the time this lease was under consideration by the city council:
According to a letter of intent approved by the city council — and sure to become law after a public hearing at a meeting of the Wichita City Council on September 13th — the city is planning to build about 8,500 square feet of retail space in a downtown parking garage. The garage is being built, partly, to serve a hotel Burk and partners are developing.
Here are the details of the deal Burk and his partners are getting from the taxpayers of Wichita: The city plans to lease this space to Burk and $1.00 per year. Not $1.00 per square foot, but $1.00 for the entire space — all 8,500 square feet.
That’s the plan for the first five years. For the next 10, the city would charge $21,000 rent per year, which is a rate of about $2.50 per square foot.
For years 15 through 20, the rent increases to $63,000, or $7.41 per square foot. At the end of this period, Burk will have the option of purchasing the space for $1,120,000, which is a cost of about $132 per square foot.
That cost of $132 per square foot is within the range of what sources in the real estate industry tell me top-quality retail space costs to build in Wichita, which is from $130 to $140 per square foot. Rents asked for that space would be from $15 to $18 per square foot per year.
Using the low figure, Burk could expect to collect about $127,500 in annual rent on space he rents for $1.00, leaving a gross profit of $127,499 for him. As the $15 rent is a net figure, Burk’s tenants will pay taxes, insurance, and maintenance.
Without Gray’s questions, these important matters of public policy would likely not have been brought to public attention. For mentioning these topics, Gray was — in an attempt at humor by Wichita City Council Member Pete Meitzner (district 2, east Wichita) — branded as “Debby Downer.”
Citizens might expect that as millions in public funds are invested, someone in city hall is keeping track, and that there is a plan for reporting these numbers. Citizens should ask why Mayor Brewer, City Manager Layton, and current council members are not concerned that there appears to be no such plan for accountability.
The notion of reporting that there was only $10.7 million in “public projects” in 2012 is absurd. Just one project, the Ambassador Hotel, received $15,407,075 in taxpayer funds to get started, and then was slated to receive $321,499 per year for the first five years, with smaller amounts for 22 years. Wichita voters rejected a small part of the ongoing subsidy, but the rest remained.
As to city manager Layton’s answer that the city is not experience in real estate leasing, my response is well, why then did you get involved? It’s not the first time the city has made such a sweetheart lease deal with some of the same parties. It’s become almost routine, as I reported at the time this lease was being considered:
David Wells, one of the owners of Key Construction, is a partner with Burk on the new hotel project, and Key is slated to build the garage under a process that doesn’t require competitive bidding, even though city money is used to pay for it. Note: Later the garage was put out for competitive bid.
The Old Town project let Burk and his partners lease 17,500 square feet of retail space from the City of Wichita for $1.00 per year for the first five years. Like the proposed project, that’s not $1.00 per square foot, but $1.00 per year for all 17,500 square feet.
The Wichita City Council, when presented with an opportunity to increase the ability of citizens to observe the workings of the government they pay for, decided against the cause of open government, preferring to keep the spending of taxpayer money a secret.
In the past I’ve argued that Go Wichita is a public agency as defined in the Kansas Open Records Act. But the city disagreed. And astonishingly, the Sedgwick County District Attorney agrees with the city’s interpretation of the law.
So I asked that we put aside the law for now, and instead talk about good public policy. Let’s recognize that even if the law does not require Go Wichita, WDDC, and GWEDC to disclose records, the law does not prohibit them from fulfilling records requests.
Once we understand this, we’re left with these questions:
Why does Go Wichita, an agency funded almost totally by tax revenue, want to keep secret how it spends that money, over $2 million per year?
Why is this city council satisfied with this lack of disclosure of how taxpayer funds are spent?
For that matter, why isn’t Wichita’s check register online?
It would be a simple matter for the council to declare that the city and its taxpayer-funded partner agencies believe in open government. All the city has to have is the will to do this. It takes nothing more.
Only Wichita City Council Member Michael O’Donnell (district 4, south and southwest Wichita) gets it, and yesterday was his last meeting as a member of the council. No other council members would speak up in favor of citizens’ right to open government.
But it’s much worse than a simple failure to recognize the importance of open government. Now we have additional confirmation of what we already suspected: Many members of the Wichita City Council are openly hostile towards citizens’ right to know.
He added that this is a matter for the Attorney General and the District Attorney, and that not being a lawyer, she shouldn’t be expected to understand these issues. He repeated the pawn theme, saying “Unfortunately there are occasions where some people want to use great people like yourself and [Wichita Downtown Development Corporation President] Jeff Fluhr as pawns in a very tumultuous environment. Please don’t be deterred by that.”
Mayor Brewer added “I would have to say Pete pretty much said it all.”
We’ve learned that city council members rely on — as Randy Brown told the council last year — facile legal reasoning to avoid oversight: “It may not be the obligation of the City of Wichita to enforce the Kansas Open Records Act legally, but certainly morally you guys have that obligation. To keep something cloudy when it should be transparent I think is foolishness on the part of any public body, and a slap in the face of the citizens of Kansas. By every definition that we’ve discovered, organizations such as Go Wichita are subject to the Kansas Open Records Act.”
But by framing open government as a legal issue — one that only lawyers can understand and decide — Wichita city government attempts to avoid criticism for their attitude towards citizens.
It’s especially absurd for this reason: Even if we accept the city’s legal position that the city and its quasi-governmental taxpayer-funded are not required to fulfill records request, there’s nothing preventing from doing that — if they wanted to.
In some ways, I understand the mayor, council members, and bureaucrats. Who wants to operate under increased oversight?
What I don’t understand is the Wichita news media’s lack of interest in this matter. Representatives of all major outlets were present at the meeting.
I also don’t understand what Council Member Lavonta Williams (district 1, northeast Wichita) suggested I do: “schmooze” with staff before asking for records. (That’s not my word, but a characterization of Williams’ suggestion made by another observer.)
I and others who have made records requests of these quasi-governmental taxpayer-funded organizations have alleged no wrongdoing by them. But at some point, citizens will be justified in wondering whether there is something that needs to be kept secret.
The actions of this city have been noticed by the Kansas Legislature. The city’s refusal to ask its tax-funded partners to recognize they are public agencies as defined in the Kansas Open Records Act is the impetus for corrective legislation that may be considered this year.
Don’t let this new law be known as the “Wichita law.” Let’s not make Wichita an example for government secrecy over citizens’ right to know.
Unfortunately, that bad example has already been set, led by the city’s mayor and city council.
I, along with many others, believe the city’s interpretation of the law is incorrect. So do many in the Kansas Legislature, and action may be taken there soon to eliminate the ability of Wichita to keep public records from the public. We can call it Gary’s Law, after Wichita City Attorney Gary Rebenstorf, who provides the legal advice the city relies upon.
The legal stance of the City of Wichita certainly isn’t good public policy. Citizens should be able to learn how taxpayer money is spent. Agencies like Go Wichita, WDDC, and GWEDC need to open their check registers as has Sedgwick County, for example.
In the meantime, there is nothing to prevent the city from asking Go Wichita to act as though it was a public agency as defined in the Kansas Open Records Act and to fulfill records requests. This would let Wichitans know that the city is truly interested in open and transparent government.
It’s easy to bluster about open government. In his “State of the City” address last year, Mayor Brewer promoted the city’s efforts in accountability and transparency, telling the audience: “We must continue to be responsive to you. Building on our belief that government at all levels belongs to the people. We must continue our efforts that expand citizen engagement. … And we must provide transparency in all that we do.” Many other city documents mention transparency as a goal for the city.
Until the city asks that these quasi-governmental organizations subject themselves to the Kansas Open Records Act, the message from the City of Wichita is clear: Accountability and transparency is provided on the city’s terms, not on citizens’ terms and the law.
Why open records are important
Here’s an example as to why this issue is important: In 2009 Mike Howerter, a trustee for Labette Community College, noticed that a check number was missing from a register. Based on his inquiry, it was revealed that the missing check was used to reimburse the college president for a political contribution. While it was determined that the college president committed no crime by making this political contribution using college funds, this is an example of the type of information that citizens may want regarding the way public funds are spent.
This is the type of information that I have requested. It is what is needed to perform effective oversight. It is what the City of Wichita has decided to avoid.
This item, last year
Last year I asked that the city council approve the contract with Go Wichita only after adding a provision that Go Wichita consider itself a public agency under the Kansas Open Records Act. Following are a few notes from the meeting (video may be viewed here or at the end of this article):
Discussion of this matter at the meeting reveals that city staff believes that the annual reports filed by Go Wichita along with periodic checks by city staff are sufficient oversight.
City Attorney Gary Rebenstorf cited the law regarding enforcement of the Kansas Open Records Act, stating that the Kansas Attorney General or the courts is the next step to seek enforcement of KORA. While Rebenstorf is correct on the law, the policy of the Kansas Attorney General is to refer all cases to the local district attorney. The Kansas AG will not intervene in this matter.
Randy Brown, who is chair of the Kansas Sunshine Coalition for Open Government and former opinion page editor of the Wichita Eagle was at the meeting and spoke on this matter. In his remarks, Brown said “It may not be the obligation of the City of Wichita to enforce the Kansas Open Records Act legally, but certainly morally you guys have that obligation. To keep something cloudy when it should be transparent I think is foolishness on the part of any public body, and a slap in the face of the citizens of Kansas. By every definition that we’ve discovered, organizations such as Go Wichita are subject to the Kansas Open Records Act.”
Brown said that he’s amazed when public officials don’t realize that transparency helps build trust in government, thereby helping public officials themselves. He added “Open government is essential to a democracy. It’s the only way citizens know what’s going on. … But the Kansas Open Records Act is clear: Public records are to be made public, and that law is to be construed liberally, not by some facile legal arguments that keep these records secret.”
He recommended to the council, as I did, that the contract be contingent on Go Wichita following the Kansas Open Records Act.
John Rolfe, president of Go Wichita, told the council that he has offered to provide me “any information that is relevant” regarding Go Wichita. He mentioned the various financial reports his organization provides. He said he is unclear on the transparency question, and what isn’t transparent.
In remarks from the bench Wichita City Council Member James Clendenin (district 3, southeast and south Wichita) asked the city manager a series of questions aimed at determining whether the city was satisfied with the level of service that Go Wichita has provided. He then extended that argument, wondering if any company the city contracts with that is providing satisfactory products or service would be subject to “government intrusion” through records requests. Would this discourage companies from wanting to be contractors?
First, the Kansas Open Records Act does not say anything about whether a company is providing satisfactory service to government. That simply isn’t a factor, and is not a basis for my records request to Go Wichita. Additionally, the Kansas Open Records Act contains a large exception, which excepts: “Any entity solely by reason of payment from public funds for property, goods or services of such entity.” So companies that sell to government in the ordinary course of business are not subject to the open records law. Go Wichita is distinguished, since it is almost entirely funded by taxes and has, I believe, just a single client: the City of Wichita.
Finally, we should note that the open records law does not represent government intrusion, as Clendenin claimed. Open records laws offer citizens the ability to get an inside look at the working of government. That’s oversight, not intrusion.
Is the city overwhelmed with records requests?
Wichita City Council Member Pete Meitzner (district 2, east Wichita) asked that there might be a workshop to develop a policy on records requests. He expressed concern that departments might be overwhelmed with requests from me that they have to respond to in a timely fashion, accusing me of “attempt to bury any of our departments in freedom of information acts [sic].”
In making this argument, Mr. Meitzner might have taken the time to learn how many records requests I’ve made to the city. The answer, to the best of my recollection, is that I have made no requests this year to the city citing the open records act. I have made perhaps a half-dozen informal requests, most of which I believe were fulfilled consuming just a few moments of someone’s time.
As to his concern over the costs of fulfilling records requests: The law allows for government and agencies to charge fees to fulfill requests. They often do this, and I have paid these fees. But more important than this, the attitude of council member Meitzner is troubling. Government should be responsive to citizens. As Randy Brown told the council, government should welcome opportunities to share information and be open and transparent.
As for a workshop for city council on the topic of open records: This would probably be presented by Rebenstorf, and his attitude towards the open records law is known, and is not on the side of citizens.
O’Donnell made a motion that the contract be approved, but amended that Go Wichita will comply with the Kansas Open Records Act. That motion didn’t receive a second.
Wichita’s attitude towards citizens
Randy Brown’s remarks are an excellent summation of the morality and politics of the city’s action and attitude regarding this matter.
The council ought to be wary of taking legal advice from city attorney Gary Rebenstorf. He has been wrong several times before when issuing guidance to this council regarding the Kansas Open Meetings Act, which is similar to the Open Records Act. He’s taken the blame and apologized for these violations. He was quoted in the Wichita Eagle as saying “I will make every effort to further a culture of openness and ensure that like mistakes are avoided in the future.”
But Rebenstorf’s attitude, as gauged accurately by Randy Brown, is to rely on facile legal arguments to avoid complying with the clear meaning and intent of the law.
Why city council members — except for Michael O’Donnell — would be opposed to what I have asked is unknown. Perhaps they know that among the public, issues relating to open records generally aren’t that important. Citizens ought to note the actions of Mayor Brewer. The mayor could easily put this matter to an end. He speaks of wanting to have open and transparent government, but when it comes time to make a tough call, his leadership is missing.
It’s becoming evident that Kansans need a better way to enforce compliance with the Kansas Open Records Act. It seems quite strange that local district attorneys are placed in a quasi-judicial role of deciding whether citizen complains are justified. If citizens disagree — and nearly everyone I’ve talked to thinks that the opinion issued by the Sedgwick County District Attorney is this matter is nonsensical and contrary to the letter and spirit of the law — they find themselves in the position of suing their government. That is costly, and citizens soon realize their own taxpayer dollars are used against them.
Wichita City Council Member Michael O’Donnell (district 4, south and southwest Wichita) made a mistake when he recently offered his opinion to the Sedgwick County Commission. The mistake was noted and corrected before the commissioners voted, so it had no influence on how the commissioners voted.
Before these council members and the mayor express much more angst, they should take a look at their own actions, and how O’Donnell successfully opposed their assault on Wichita taxpayers.
In September 2011, all council members except O’Donnell voted to award a no-bid contract to a construction company for a parking garage and retail space as part of the Ambassador Hotel project, then known as Douglas Place and now known as Block One. (Mayor Carl Brewer was absent that day, but earlier he voted for the letter of intent to do the same.)
Ironically, the company that submitted the winning bid was the same company that received the no-bid contract: Key Construction, a company well-known for its owners’ and executives’ campaign contributions to Mayor Brewer and nearly all council members, regardless of political ideology. Also involved in the project was Dave Burk, who along with his wife also make large and regular contributions to a broad range of council members.
Wichitans need to know that all except O’Donnell — and belatedly, Meitzner — thought it was proper to award their significant campaign contributors with a padded contract that awarded excess profits to Key at the expense of taxpayers.
Wastefully squandering taxpayer money in order to reward significant campaign contributors is not productive economic development. Instead, it’s cronyism of the worst kind, and illegal in some places. In Wichita, however, this is standard operating practice for some council members.
Such blatant cronyism reduces the prosperity of our community. It causes citizens to lose confidence in government. It stirs citizens to petition their government for redress. That literally happened in Wichita, motivated in part by behavior like this.
The bad behavior of the Wichita City Council has received national attention. In its commentary on the successful referendum in Wichita this year, the Wall Street Journal remarked: “Local politicians like to get in bed with local business, and taxpayers are usually the losers. So three cheers for a voter revolt in Wichita, Kansas last week that shows such sweetheart deals can be defeated.”
Now citizens are investigating campaign finance reform laws that would, hopefully, reduce the incentive for the shameful practice of awarding no-bid contracts to significant campaign contributors. As the Wichita City Council, except for O’Donnell, has shown no interest in reforming itself, citizens must do it themselves.
Instead of being angry with the departing O’Donnell, the council and mayor should look at themselves first and reform their proven harmful practices.
Actions of the Wichita City Council have shown that campaign finance reform is needed. Citizen groups are investigating how to accomplish this needed reform, since the council has not shown interest in reforming itself.
The Wall Street Journal comments on last week’s election in Wichita, noting “Local politicians like to get in bed with local business, and taxpayers are usually the losers.” Purported conservatives like Pete Meitzner, James Clendenin, and Jeff Longwell ought to take notice.
On an episode of KAKE Television’s “This Week in Kansas,” the disdain of Go Wichita Convention and Visitors Bureau and the City of Wichita towards open records and government transparency is discussed.
Discussion of setting an election date provided another example reinforcing the realization that Wichita has a city council — with the exception of one member — that is entirely captured by special interests.
Making contributions to candidates for political office is part of the American political process. But for the Wichita City Council, we see a troubling trend of contributions made by people who also ask the council for money.
Some Wichita City Council members, including Mayor Carl Brewer, criticize citizens for their use of inaccurate and misleading information. So how do the statements made by council members fare when subjected to scrutiny?
In a free society with a limited government, taxation should be restricted to being a way for government to raise funds to pay for services that all people benefit from. But in the city of Wichita, private tax policy is overtaking our city.
Police chief to present to Pachyderms This Friday (December 13, 2013) the Wichita Pachyderm Club presents Norman D. Williams, who is Chief of Police for the Wichita Police Department. His topic is “Transitioning the Wichita Police Department for the Future.”
The public is welcome and encouraged to attend Wichita Pachyderm Club meetings. Meetings are held almost every […] Quick Takes
Thank you, Gidget I love reading Gidget’s blog. It’s titled Kansas GOP Insider (wannabe), and the tagline is “The Kansas GOP is filled with characters on the inside. I’m looking through the window and holding up a mirror.”
Gidget writes anonymously, partly for reasons she explains in her post below. But we do know […] Quick Takes
Death penalty to be Pachyderm topic This Friday (December 6, 2013) the Wichita Pachyderm Club presents Ben Jones, who is with Conservatives Concerned about the Death Penalty. His topic will be “Capital Punishment in Kansas from a conservative perspective: Is it a failed policy?”
Jones is also a Ph.D. candidate in political science at Yale University.
The public […] Quick Takes
If I voted for Mitt Romney They told me if I voted for Mitt Romney, we’d have a flip-flopper for president. Well, I voted for Mitt Romney, and that’s what we have. […] Quick Takes
Means of production It is only because the control of the means of production is divided among many people acting independently that nobody has complete power over us, that we as individuals can decide what to do with ourselves.
– Frederick Hayek […] Quick Takes
The Kansas Economic Freedom Index identifies Kansas legislators who vote in favor of economic freedom — and those who don’t.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness — Declaration of Independence
The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people. — Ninth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
Government is essentially the negation of liberty. — Ludwig von Mises
It is the responsibility of the patriot to protect his country from its government. — Thomas Paine
It does not take a majority to prevail, but an irate, tireless minority keen to set brushfires of freedom in the minds of men. — Samuel Adams
You do not know, and will never know, who the Remnant are, nor where they are, nor how many of them there are, nor what they are doing or will do. Two things you know, and no more: first, that they exist; second, that they will find you. — Albert Jay Nock
A major source of objection to a free economy is precisely that ... it gives people what they want instead of what a particular group thinks they ought to want. Underlying most arguments against the free market is a lack of belief in freedom itself. — Milton Friedman
As the coercive power of the state will alone decide who is to have what, the only power worth having will be a share in the exercise of this directing power. — F.A. Hayek
The kind of rules we should have are the kind that we'd make if our worst enemy were in charge. — Walter E. Williams
Your principle has placed these words above the entrance of the legislative chamber: “whosoever acquires any influence here can obtain his share of legal plunder.” And what has been the result? All classes have flung themselves upon the doors of the chamber crying: “A share of the plunder for me, for me!” — Frederic Bastiat
This was all before politicians gave us the idea that the things we could not afford individually we could somehow afford collectively through the magic of government. — Thomas Sowell
While the short-run prospects for liberty at home and abroad may seem dim, the proper attitude for the Libertarian to take is that of unquenchable long-run optimism. — Murray N. Rothbard
Barbra Streisand told Diane Sawyer that we're in a global warming crisis, and we can expect more and more intense storms, droughts and dust bowls. But before they act, weather experts say they're still waiting to hear from Celine Dion. — Jay Leno
The great virtue of free enterprise is that it forces existing businesses to meet the test of the market continuously, to produce products that meet consumer demands at lowest cost, or else be driven from the market. It is a profit-and-loss system. Naturally, existing businesses generally prefer to keep out competitors in other ways. That is why the business community, despite its rhetoric, has so often been a major enemy of truly free enterprise. — Milton Friedman
Increasingly, it seems that the biggest difference between conservatives and liberals is that the conservatives know government is force. But that doesn't stop them from using it. — John Stossel
One of the annoying things about believing in free will and individual responsibility is the difficulty of finding somebody to blame your problems on. And when you do find somebody, it's remarkable how often his picture turns up on your driver's license. — P.J. O'Rourke
Late one night in Washington, D.C. a mugger wearing a ski mask jumped into the path of a well-dressed man and stuck a gun in his ribs. "Give me your money!" he demanded. Indignant, the affluent man replied, "You can't do this. I'm a United States Congressman!" "In that case," replied the robber, "give me my money!" — Related by Walter Block
The libertarian creed, finally, offers the fulfillment of the best of the American past along with the promise of a far better future. Even more than conservatives, who are often attached to the monarchical traditions of a happily obsolete European past, libertarians are squarely in the great classical liberal tradition that built the United States and bestowed on us the American heritage of individual liberty, a peaceful foreign policy, minimal government, and a free-market economy. Libertarians are the only genuine current heirs of Jefferson, Paine, Jackson, and the abolitionists. — From "For A New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto" by Murray N. Rothbard
No matter how disastrously some policy has turned out, anyone who criticizes it can expect to hear: “But what would you replace it with?” When you put out a fire, what do you replace it with? — Thomas Sowell
Here’s Williams’ law: Whenever the profit incentive is missing, the probability that people’s wants can be safely ignored is the greatest. — Walter E. Williams
I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue. — Barry Goldwater
A society that puts equality — in the sense of equality of outcome — ahead of freedom will end up with neither equality nor freedom. The use of force to achieve equality will destroy freedom, and the force, introduced for good purposes, will end up in the hands of people who use it to promote their own interests. — Milton Friedman
When it becomes dominated by a collectivist creed, democracy will inevitably destroy itself. — F.A. Hayek
The most dangerous man, to any government, is the man who is able to think things out for himself, without regard to the prevailing superstitions and taboos. Almost inevitably he comes to the conclusion that the government he lives under is dishonest, insane and intolerable, and so, if he is romantic, he tries to change it. — H.L. Mencken
Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. — C.S. Lewis
When the people find they can vote themselves money, that will herald the end of the republic. — Benjamin Franklin
What is euphemistically called government-corporate "partnership" is just government coercion, political favoritism, collectivist industrial policy, and old-fashioned federal boondoggles nicely wrapped up in a bright-colored ribbon. It doesn’t work. — Ronald Reagan
Those fighting for free enterprise and free competition do not defend the interests of those rich today. They want a free hand left to unknown men who will be the entrepreneurs of tomorrow. — Ludwig von Mises
The problem is big government. If whoever controls government can impose his way upon you, you have to fight constantly to prevent the control from being harmful. With small, limited government, it doesn’t much matter who controls it, because it can’t do you much harm. — Harry Browne
Life, liberty, and property do not exist because men have made laws. On the contrary, it was the fact that life, liberty, and property existed beforehand that caused men to make laws in the first place. — Frederic Bastiat
It is indeed probable that more harm and misery have been caused by men determined to use coercion to stamp out a moral evil than by men intent on doing evil. — F.A. Hayek
Freedom in economic arrangements is itself a component of freedom broadly understood, so economic freedom is an end in itself ... Economic freedom is also an indispensable means toward the achievement of political freedom. — Milton Friedman
Be thankful we're not getting all the government we're paying for. — Will Rogers
The American people will never knowingly adopt socialism, but under the name of liberalism, they will adopt every fragment of the socialist program until one day America will be a socialist nation without ever knowing how it happened. — Norman Thomas
[The political system] tends to give undue political power to small groups that have highly concentrated interests; to give greater weight to obvious, direct and immediate effects of government action than to possibly more important but concealed, indirect and delayed effects; to set in motion a process that sacrifices the general interest to serve special interests rather than the other way around. There is, as it were, an invisible hand in politics that operates in precisely the opposite direction to Adam Smith's invisible hand. — Milton Friedman
I'd rather be governed by the first 2,000 names in the Boston telephone directory than by the faculty of Harvard. — William F. Buckley Jr.
Liberty is not a means to a political end. It is itself the highest political end. — Lord Acton
The great virtue of a free market system is that it does not care what color people are; it does not care what their religion is; it only cares whether they can produce something you want to buy. It is the most effective system we have discovered to enable people who hate one another to deal with one another and help one another. — Milton Friedman
It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages. Nobody but a beggar chooses to depend chiefly upon the benevolence of his fellow citizens. — Adam Smith
Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance. — H.L. Mencken
This is the shabby secret of the welfare statists' tirades against gold. Deficit spending is simply a scheme for the "hidden" confiscation of wealth. Gold stands in the way of this insidious process. It stands as a protector of property rights. If one grasps this, one has no difficulty in understanding the statists' antagonism toward the gold standard. — Alan Greenspan, “Gold and Economic Freedom” 
Fundamentally, there are only two ways of coordinating the economic activities of millions. One is central direction involving the use of coercion — the technique of the army and of the modern totalitarian state. The other is voluntary cooperation of individuals — the technique of the marketplace. — Milton Friedman
The compelling issue to both conservatives and liberals is not whether it is legitimate for government to confiscate one’s property to give to another, the debate is over the disposition of the pillage. — Walter Williams
In Germany, they came first for the Communists,
And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist;
And then they came for the trade unionists,
And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist;
And then they came for the Jews,
And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew;
And then ... they came for me ...
And by that time there was no one left to speak up.
— Pastor Martin Niemöller
There is no virtue in compulsory government charity, and there is no virtue in advocating it. A politician who portrays himself as "caring" and "sensitive" because he wants to expand the government's charitable programs is merely saying that he's willing to try to do good with other people's money. Well, who isn't? And a voter who takes pride in supporting such programs is telling us that he'll do good with his own money — if a gun is held to his head. — P.J. O'Rourke
The difference between libertarianism and socialism is that libertarians will tolerate the existence of a socialist community, but socialists can't tolerate a libertarian community. — David Boaz
When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty. — Thomas Jefferson
After all, only the imagination limits the kind of laws and restrictions that can be written in the name of saving the planet. — Walter E. Williams
One of the methods used by statists to destroy capitalism consists in establishing controls that tie a given industry hand and foot, making it unable to solve its problems, then declaring that freedom has failed and stronger controls are necessary. — Ayn Rand
People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the publick. ... It is impossible indeed to prevent such meetings, by any law which either could be executed, or would be consistent with liberty and justice. But though the law cannot hinder people of the same trade from sometimes assembling together, it ought to do nothing to facilitate such assemblies; much less to render them necessary. — Adam Smith
Act only on that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law. — Immanuel Kant
When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men living together in society, they create for themselves in the course of time a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that justifies it. — Frederic Bastiat