Reports that the Wichita city manager’s fiancee is involved with a group seeking approval from the city for a project indicate that the city’s perspective on ethics could use reform.
Nearly two years ago Wichita public relations executive Beth King was involved with a group seeking tax increment financing from the city. At the time I met with Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer and expressed my concerns that since King was dating City Manager Robert Layton, there might be a conflict of interest. If not, then at least the appearance of that.
Brewer assured me that there were policies in place to guard against problems, and there was no need to be concerned. During the city council meeting where this issue was discussed, the manager did remove himself, saying that the assistant manager had handled the issue.
But evidently, the mayor’s policies haven’t worked, at least for some council members. According to Wichita Eagle reporting today, three council members believe King’s involvement in the current project is a problem, and the mayor was surprised to learn of King’s involvement.
Brewer and other city council members describe King’s roll as minor — just public relations — and therefore not a problem.
CityEthics.org has a model ethics code that cities and counties might adopt. It states: “An official or employee may not use his or her official position or office, or take or fail to take any action, or influence others to take or fail to take any action, in a manner which he or she knows, or has reason to believe, may result in a personal or financial benefit, not shared with a substantial segment of the city’s population, for any of the following persons or entities …”
Surprisingly, the code does not mention “fiancee” as a person to whom this code should apply. But I think common sense tells us that it should.
The Eagle article described Brewer as “disappointed that council members raised the issue to the media.” If the mayor is concerned that this issue is harming the reputation of the city, there is a solution: Act, Mr. Mayor, as though you are concerned. Establish clear ethics guidelines for the conduct of city employees.
Simply removing one’s self from discussion of, or involvement in, a particular issue isn’t sufficient remedy, however. Most people know where their boss’ interest lie.