New procedures and perhaps new personnel are required to regain citizens’ trust.
Reporting in the Wichita Eagle by Brent Wistrom (City vows to better vet its partners, Sunday December 15, 2008) has revealed a city staff confused as to basic procedures for safeguarding citizens’ taxes, not to mention their trust.
I won’t go into the details of Mr. Wistrom’s reporting, except to quote him as concluding that “city officials offered confusing and sometimes conflicting versions of how they analyze private business partners who ask for city assistance.” The city officials referred to include interim city manager Scott Moore, Allen Bell, Wichita’s director of urban development, and Van Williams, Wichita’s Public Information Officer and former Wichita Eagle reporter. Also mentioned was the city’s law department, which is headed by Gary Rebenstorf.
It appears that the city uses Google to gain information about its potential business partners. But there’s a few problems with relying only on free public search engines like Google and its competitors. For example, not everything on the Internet is in Google. Court records and other documents may reside on the “hidden Internet,” websites that require a user account and perhaps a subscription fee. Google and other search engines generally can’t see and index material on these sites.
But what’s really troubling is that while the city extract guarantees from developers that they will cover any shortfalls in tax revenues that will pay off the TIF bonds, evidently no credit checks are performed. What good does it do to get a guarantee of responsibility for potentially millions of dollars in tax revenue shortfall, when the guarantor person or company has few assets and little ability to make good on their promise?
It appears that a citizen wanting to finance an automobile or obtain a credit card is scrutinized more closely than are potential city business partners.
The ownership of the business entities behind the Renaissance Square project in the C.O.R.E. Redevelopment District has been restructured to eliminate the developer whose past problems lead to delay. But there’s still a taint on this project. As reporting in the Wichita Eagle has revealed, there is no money available to borrow for projects like this. Even if the city council were to approve this project this week, it would likely be some time before the project gets moving.
Time is not of the essence. Let’s wait before proceeding. Given the confusion at Wichita city hall that Mr. Wistrom reported, citizens can have no confidence in proceeding with any projects like this until better procedures are put in place. Then, we’re not going to take Allen Bell’s word that these procedures are in place, as recent events give us little confidence in his capabilities or judgment. We’ll need some independent confirmation that city staff and council members are to be trusted in matters such as these.