Speculation that politics might influence a decision over the location of State of Kansas offices is amusing, given that one of the players has a history of awarding campaign contributors and friends. Will he now advocate for keeping politics out of governmental decision-making?
When the State of Kansas said it is going to move offices from its downtown location, a local politician expressed concern to the Wichita Eagle:
“It raises a red flag,” says Rep. Jim Ward (D-Wichita). “I have a concern there is a history of the governor rewarding financial contributors with state contracts. I know he has contributors in Wichita that own (buildings) that fall into that category. … I don’t want that to be the reason we’re moving.”
In another Eagle article, Ward said his second priority is “to find out who owns the building where the departments may move ‘to make sure this isn’t going to help a political contributor.’”
I welcome Rep. Ward’s concern regarding politicians rewarding financial contributors with government contracts. Of course, he might have taken a moment to find out who actually owned the building before making charges of political payback.
It would be interesting to know if Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer shares Ward’s concern about political payback as he intervenes and tries to keep the state offices in their current location.
Will Brewer argue that the state should keep politics out of this decision? If so, this will be the same Carl Brewer who operates in this fashion:
Votes for no-bid overpriced contracts to political contributors: 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.
The no-bid contract for the garage was just one of many subsidies and grants given to Key Construction and Dave Burk as part of the Ambassador Hotel project. Both of these parties are heavy campaign contributors to nearly all city council members. Brewer and the head of Key Construction are apparently friends, embarking on fishing expeditions. Then Brewer was willing to spend an extra $1.3 million of taxpayer money to reward a politically-connected construction firm that makes heavy campaign contributions to him and many other council members.
Sits in judgment of campaign contributors: 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.
Recommends his cronies, even when they’ve harmed city finances: 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 the city’s experience with this company, Brewer wrote a letter recommending Key Construction (and only Key), observing “Key is known for their consistent quality construction, budget control and on schedule delivery.”
Entangles business welfare and personal business: In 2008 the Wichita City Council approved a no- and low-interest loan to movie theater owner Bill Warren and his partners. 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.”
Warren’s theaters have received other financial benefits from the city under Brewer’s leadership. Then when Brewer started manufacturing and selling barbeque sauce, it was sold at Warren’s theater.
Given this history, it’s difficult to imagine Brewer arguing that the office location decision should be made free from political considerations. His behavior — and that of some other council members as well — shows that making investments in Wichita politicians is highly lucrative.
This decision is being made in Topeka at the state level, not at Wichita City Hall. It’s still amusing, however, to see Rep. Ward express concern over political campaign contributions influencing Wichita government.