Rhonda Holman’s Wichita Eagle editorial today (Need vetting of City Hall partners) correctly states that city staff “missed the mark in vetting negotiator Grant Gaudreau.” Or is the proper title “principal developer,” as stated by Wichita’s director of urban development Allen Bell? (See Wichita’s Faulty Due Diligence for video.)
There’s a lot of confusion over this matter, and times like this let us get a closer look at what’s going on in city hall. We can also learn a lot about the attitudes of government officials and city staff. For example, a Wichita Eagle news story reported this:
“Grant was never a big money player in this,” Fearey said. “He’s always just been the person who had time to come to the city and work through things and also knew a lot about who to go to in the city and how to work the system.”
First, note the disparity between Allen Bell’s “principal developer” and Wichita city council member Sharon Fearey’s “never a big money player.” But what’s really troubling is that Fearey acknowledges that there’s a “system” at city hall that someone knows “how to work.” This doesn’t say a lot for openness and transparency in Wichita city government. It also perpetuates the realization that there’s a network of insiders who know how to milk the halls of government power for their own benefit.
Then, the Eagle news story contains this: “[Wichita Mayor Carl] Brewer said he wants to ensure that developers can complete the project in a reasonable time and that there are no other problems.” If our mayor can figure out some way to eliminate the risks that entrepreneurs take, more power to him. If successful, I might consider voting for him, should he decide to run for re-election.
The fact is, however, that real estate development is a tremendously risky endeavor. Entrepreneurs — people with their own money at stake, with their ears to the ground every day and the experience, power, and discretion to alter plans as the situation dictates — are the people best suited to assume and negotiate this risk. Politicians operate in a different environment with a different set of incentives.