Wichita’s city attorney is retiring, and the city will select a replacement. There are a few questions that we ought to ask of candidates, such as: Can the city disregard charter ordinances when they inconvenience the council’s cronies?
In awarding a contract for an apartment development, city leaders seem to have overlooked a Wichita City Charter Ordinance that sets aside the development area to be “open space, committed to use for the purpose of public recreation and enjoyment.” But the land was desired by a group of campaign contributors, friends, and business partners of Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer. Many of the partners had also received taxpayer subsidy from the city under the mayor’s leadership. In other words, it appears that the city legal staff disregarded a charter ordinance because it was not convenient for the mayor’s cronies.
This begs a few questions, such as: Did the city attorney advise the mayor and council of this charter ordinance? We’ll probably never know due to attorney-client confidentiality.
But there is this really important question: Who does the Wichita city attorney represent? Whose interest does the city legal staff protect? The answer is the city attorney works for the city manager, who in turn works for the mayor and city council. These are the city attorney’s clients.
Which leads to this question, which the most important: Who represents the citizens of Wichita?
Some cities have an ombudsman, whose duty is to look out for the interests of citizens. You might think this is the raison dêtre of the mayor and council members — “the most important reason or purpose for someone or something’s existence.” We’ve learned, however, that this is not the case in Wichita.
Background: In 2013 the Wichita City Council selected a development team to build apartments on the West Bank of the Arkansas River, between Douglas Avenue and Second Street. But city leaders may have overlooked a Wichita City Charter Ordinance that sets aside this land to be “open space, committed to use for the purpose of public recreation and enjoyment.”
The building of apartments on this land would seem to be contrary to the language of this ordinance.
Section 10, paragraph (b) of Charter Ordinance No. 144 defines two tracts of land and specifies restrictions on their future use. The proposed apartment development, as can be seen in the nearby illustration, lies in the second tract. The ordinance says this land “shall be hereafter restricted to and maintained as open space.”
Following is the relevant portion of Charter Ordinance No. 144. Emphasis is added.
SECTION 1. Charter Ordinance No. 125 of the City of Wichita is hereby amended to add the following section:
“Section 10. (a) All real property subject to this Section and owned by the City of Wichita or the Board of Park Commissioners shall be subject to the restrictions on use established by this Section. Such restrictions shall apply to such property owned on the date of this ordinance and shall continue to apply to the property whether owned by the City, Board of Park Commissioners, or some other person or entity. These restrictions may hereafter be reduced to a less restrictive use or removed from any or all of the property by action of two-thirds of the members elect of the governing body. Any such action to reduce or remove restrictions shall be by resolution of the governing body.
“(b) This Section shall apply to that property located between McLean Boulevard and the Arkansas River and between Central Avenue and Douglas Avenue. The street boundaries shall continue to apply in the event of the relocation of any street.
That portion of the property North of Second Street shall be hereafter restricted to public use, meaning that such property shall be publicly owned and accessible to the public.
That portion of the property South of Second Street shall be hereafter restricted to and maintained as open space, committed to use for the purpose of public recreation and enjoyment.