For Wichita city hall, ethics again an issue

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.


10 thoughts on “For Wichita city hall, ethics again an issue”

  1. Hi Bob.

    Thanks for your coverage of this. As I hope you know, I have resigned from working with the development group given the concerns about my involvement. It was certainly not my intent to cause such disruption, especially in light of changes to my business model that were implemented quite sometime ago in order to avoid conflict or impropriety (I do hope you’ll write about my resignation from the project at some point, by the way, and perhaps reflect the changes to my business model: I no longer advocate for clients at City (like I did for Real Development), respond to RFPs or manage City campaigns.) I made those changes sometime ago and have strictly adhered to them.

    Also, I truly appreciate your citation of an ethical guide — and did want to let you know, perhaps most importantly, that I never stood to gain (or lose) anything related to council action. I was retained on a set project fee that was based on hours of work estimated for my media relations services, and that fee had no relation to whether the council voted ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ (I was in the Council chambers to assist the clients with reporters who were also there.) In any case, my read of the code you cited suggests that it would not apply to me since I had no personal or financial benefit resulting from action taken or not taken. (What’s your opinion?)

    That said, I fully support your work on ethical transparency – (more than obviously my appearance in the Council chambers should let you know that I was “being” transparent and not hiding anything!) – and I am appreciative of being able to comment on your site. Let me know your thoughts on the ethical question, now that you are aware of my fee structure on this, please. Thanks!

  2. Ooops. Perhaps it would help if I didn’t leave out words!

    “… the changes to my business model: I no longer advocate for clients at City (like I did for Real Development), respond to RFPs or manage City campaigns.”

  3. Don’t know why those omitted words didn’t appear. Trying again:
    “…the changes to my business model: I no longer advocate for clients at City “Hall” (like I did for Real Development), respond to “City” RFPs or manage City campaigns.”

    Whew.

  4. Bob, I realize that I posed my question inaccurately. Of course these ethical guidelines / codes apply to me; my question is whether, in your opinion, they apply in this situation. Look forward to hearing your thoughts.

  5. Beth King and the city manager have done nothing wrong. This is all about perceptions. People do not check out their assumptions, which can be WRONG! Too many small-minded people in Wichita. As an outgoing city council member said some years ago, “Wichita is a one-horse town; it always has been, and it will always be so.” Very apt remark.

  6. Beth, I doubt Bob responds. I have pointed out before his distorting Dale Dennis’ position on local school fund balances. Instead of retracting his post, he continues the distortion. I applaud you for having the courage to post and confront him.

    Bob, I’m still waiting on your response to whether Commissioners Peterjohn and Ranzau should lower their $83,000 government salaries to the roughly $35,000 Wichita City Council members make? I would hope you would support this since you claim to support lower government spending.

  7. I can’t speak for Bob … but Nash, if you had even an ounce of the “courage” that you attribute to Beth King, perhaps you would identify yourself when making accusations regarding Bob.

    By commenting anonymously, you avoid accountability for the things you say.

    I think Bob is correct in generally ignoring anonymous commentators. “Man up”, you who demand a response. If Beth King can, you can too.

  8. Well Anonymous if you had an ounce of “courage” you would identify yourself first. To do so otherwise makes you nothing more than a hypocrite. Secondly, it’s a fair question. Bob, along with Commisioners Peterjohn and Ranzau all say they support lower government spending. Both commissioners could really prove they support lower government spending by lowering their salaries to that of the Wichita City Council. It’s really a simple question and I don’t know why Bob just doesn’t say he supports it.

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