Last week the Wichita City Council approved travel expenses for Mayor Carl Brewer to attend a Wichita Sister Cities meeting in Cancun and Tlalnepantla, Mexico in September. The council approved the expenses without discussing how much would be spent, and who it would be spent on.
Now we know. The total budget for this trip is $5,862. The people making the trip on Wichita’s behalf besides the mayor are Kevin Vaughn, a City of Wichita police lieutenant whose role is described as security; Jerry Smartt, who is Wichita Area Sister Cities (WASC) President; Ramon Machan, another Wichita police office and WASC Mexico Committee Chair with a possible additional role of security; and Patricia and Ed Koehler, Owner of JR Custom Metals and spouse, in their role as business representatives.
The expenses for Vaughn, Smartt, and Machan are given as $1,166 each. The expenses for the mayor are listed at $365, smaller than the others as the mayor is paying for his own airfare. The Koehlers are paying their own expenses, and there is no cost to the city for their travel according to the travel budget document.
Another item in the budget is $2,000 for gifts, described as “silver/gold/bronze coins.”
Some will undoubtedly consider the wisdom of spending these funds on a trip — a junket — of dubious value, especially the spending on gifts.
Equally troubling is the council’s vote on this item without knowing the budget for the trip. This didn’t bother Council Member Pete Meitzner (district 2, east Wichita), who argued that the city should also pay the mayor’s airfare.
This episode is reminiscent of Council Member Janet Miller (district 6, north central Wichita) and her junket to France two years ago. In Wichita Eagle reporting of my questioning of the trip and its city-paid expenses, we learned: “Mayor Carl Brewer aggressively defended City Council member Janet Miller ‘s planned trip to Paris against criticism Tuesday, saying such trips can draw business to the city and generate new ideas.”
The mayor’s defense included a confusing analogy to marriage, as reported in the same article: “Brewer said the situation is similar to a married couple going through tough times. He said you shouldn’t get a divorce just to save money — just like the city shouldn’t decline an invitation to the conference just because of a tight budget.”