Wichita city hall silent on handling of ethics issue

A correction has been noted in this article.

On Tuesday the Wichita city council will hold a public hearing regarding a request by Real Development for a $2.5 million increase in tax increment district financing. While this proposal should be opposed on its merits, there is reason to give extra scrutiny to this matter. That’s because Real Development employs the services of Wichita public relations executive Beth King. What matters to public policy is that last year she and Wichita City Manager Robert Layton began a dating relationship which continues to the present.

Documents released to me in response to a records request indicate that King is no mere publicist. Instead, it is apparent she plays an active role in negotiations between city staff and Real Development.

The mayor, city manager, and city staff have policies in place to control what is an obvious conflict of interest. The efficacy of these policies might be the subject of discussion and debate — except there is no discussion.

The Wichita Eagle has researched a story on this matter. Reporters interviewed the mayor, city council members, and government ethics experts. (The following sentence in this article is in error. Eagle newsroom management says research was never developed into a story. See here for more.) But Eagle newsroom management has squashed the story, citing the difficulty of drawing a line between public and private behavior. (The Eagle has mentioned the dating relationship and briefly described the city’s response as a small part of a story marking Layton’s first anniversary as Wichita city manager.)

The Eagle’s editorial board has not written on this issue, either.

The line between private and public life is difficult to draw, no doubt. But when a company actively represented by a person who is involved in a dating relationship with the city’s top executive is asking the city for millions in tax increment financing, the line has definitely been crossed.

There needs to be a public discussion of the city’s response to this matter. The people of Wichita need to know that the city believes the conflict of interest has been handled, and by what measures. We need to hear from experts — and regular citizens — as to whether these policies are an appropriate and effective response.

In a meeting with Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer Friday afternoon, I told him of my concern about the lack of public disclosure of the measures the city has taken. The mayor stressed several times that the manager’s private life is not a subject for public discussion, and I agree.

The mayor feels that by providing information to news media and having been interviewed, his obligation is fulfilled. That could be true if the management of the Wichita Eagle, our town’s only daily newspaper, printed the story that would let citizens know of the city’s policies regarding this matter.

But since that story is apparently not forthcoming from the Eagle, I feel that the city needs to come forward and tell citizens of the policies it instituted and why the city believes they are effective. It is not appropriate for the city manager to do this, since he is the subject of these policies. Instead, this is the job of the mayor, as he is the political head of the city.

Besides this issue there is another area of concern. King served as campaign manager for Mayor Brewer and Council Member Lavonta Williams. Should theses elected officials abstain from participating in a decision involving a client of their campaign manager? At the minimum, these relationships need to be disclosed.

In his first state of the city address, the mayor addressed government accountability, stating: “I’m talking about public trust in government.” Citizens become cynical, however, when they feel there is a group of insiders — commonly called the “good ol’ boy network” — who get whatever they want from city hall at the expense of taxpayers. An obvious conflict of interest can’t simply be swept under the rug — as the city has done in this case — without fueling this cynicism. There’s a tension between widespread knowledge of this matter and the city’s refusal to deal with it in public. This is the case whether the city’s policies are an effective and appropriate response, or if they are not.


19 thoughts on “Wichita city hall silent on handling of ethics issue”

  1. Many years ago the former Wichita police chief Rick Stone wrote a thinly veiled novel about Wichita municipal misgovernance entitled: “Behind the Gold Star.” This book deserves to be re-read.

    This uneven novel works at several levels–and in places is hilariously funny. Stone’s novel is as timely now as way back when he was chief of police and deserves to be re-read in light of the latest conflicts of interest at work down at city hall today. Nothing seems to change very much at city hall when it comes to shenanigans.

  2. The Eagle article also noted:

    “Layton has also put firewalls between himself and decisions about whether to assist Real Development Inc., which owns about 13 major high-rises downtown.”

    “Layton has said he will not make recommendations on any project that King is representing or present the items to council members. And he has said he’s offended by suggestions that his private life would interfere with his professional decisions.”

    So Bob, what is your point exactly???

  3. What’s your point Pat?

    Layton is offended?
    I am offended that we pay a City Manager to lead and be in charge and yet he can’t weigh in on much of the so called development going on in our City?
    Did Layton abstain from Mike Loveland’s ill fated Parkstone at College Hill development? Does he abstain from anything to do with the Downtown Development group, the Wichita Hyatt, the City of Wichita, the Greater Wichita Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition?……….all clients listed by Ms. King.

    I am sick and tired of the way business is conducted in this City and shame on you Pat for not being concerned about these conflicts because I think you truly care about Wichita.

  4. I think Wichita should be declared a property tax free zone and let western kansas pick up the tab for the underfunded public education fiasco.

  5. Jimmy J – Thank you for your input and your suggestion of what could certainly be a legitimate concern. But just so everyone is clear — in my industry, work is often project-oriented and all the entities you listed above are clients for whom I have done work in some capacity in the past but no longer represent — with the exception of Parkstone. From time to time, I assist with media relations for Parkstone — but I have nothing to do with Parkstone’s dealings with City Hall. None of the other clients you listed involved city representation either. The work for the City was many years ago when I served as a facilitator in the public input process for an Area plan. I hope this helps to address your concerns, and I am happy to provide further information to you if that would be helpful.

  6. Well, my point is simply that Bob is implying that there is unethical conduct at city hall on the part of the Manager and Beth King as it relates to Real Development.

    To quote: “But when a company actively represented by a person who is involved in a dating relationship with the city’s top executive is asking the city for millions in tax increment financing, the line has definitely been crossed.” I believe that the Eagle article fully addresses any such conduct.

    Layton wasn’t around when Parkstone was initially approved and to call it “ill-fated” is premature.

    Ms. King has represented a number of clients in the past and present. The question is whether the service is for “government affairs” or public relations, which can mean very many different things.

    As far as being sick of the way things happen at city hall, the last people that you need to worry about are Ms. King and Bob Layton.

  7. government “affairs…public “relations”

    quite appropriate terms!

    The problem boils down to any appearance of impropriety is not good in the long run for our City and like it or not this smacks of it.
    The Eagle had a huge story on this and it was squelched. Get it out front….at least someone could be applauded for being forthright. But no, what appears to be behind the scenes is the status quo.

  8. Hi, obviously there is the APPEARANCE of impropriety, which is bad enough. Given the current economic times, the appearance is enough to warrant someones resignation. We can’t afford (monetarily, not ethically) to keep Wichita’s status quo. Wichita needs jobs, not entertainment. Yes, entertainment brings jobs, BUT (a rather large but) if no one in Wichita produces a product for sale, they can’t afford the entertainment. If they CAN afford it, we’re paying them too much in welfare.

    Later

    Mike

  9. The eagle story is “squelched” (according to concerned citizen) and this is not news on other media outlets in this city! Wow, that is news…nope, probably not. Wouldn’t be prudent. Wouldn’t promote downtown.

    Perhaps I’ll have to buy a gridiron ticket to see if the real story finally gets reported on stage this weekend. This Wichitan would like to know the rest of the story.

  10. When Elma Broadfoot was elected Mayor of Wichita in 1993 she wanted to bring her campaign manager as her adviser in City hall. The media wrote about this matter everyday until Mayor Broadfoot gave up on the idea. Clearly, there is a double-standard here when it relates to the campaign manager for Mayor Brewer being an adviser and personal friend of the City Manager and a “well paid lobbyist” for Real Development who is receiving millions of dollars from the Wichita’s taxpayers. It is outrageous for Mayor Brewer and Manager Layton to hide under the banner of a private matter. The issue is not Mr. Layton and Ms. King amorous relationship, but the fiduciary responsibility that the Mayor and City Manager have towards the taxpayer that is being affected by relationships that clearly benefits a campaign contributors and certain special interest.

  11. Wichitator, I’m not sure the Eagle squelches anything.

    Carlos, I’m not sure you should be throwing stones and intimating anything about people’s relationships with city hall. What about your relationship with a certain former county commissioner? I seem to recall that he was on the front page of the Eagle cutting your victory cake the day after the election. And of course he raised alot of funds for your campaign. It’s well known that he lobbied the city on behalf of a number of developers and construction contractors during your tenure. I’m sure that you will deny that there was anything improper, so why would you not give others the same benefit of doubt? OTOH, “takes one to know one” come sto mind ……….

  12. Patricia, former Mayor Mayans tried to clean up the corruption in City Hall. You can throw all the stones that you want but facts are facts. The worst things that the local media ever said about Mayans was that he was “divisive” which was another word for “he didn’t go along with all the favoritism and corruption”. At least, Mayans tried to bring about real ethical change and that is now out of the window. In 2011, Mayor Brewer and his other clowns are very vulnerable and Mayans has nothing to do with all the crap that has been going on since the election of 2007. The question for the voters is going to be “are you better off today than you were in 2007?” The obvious answer is NO! Good luck with your assessment, but Mayans is not George Bush.

  13. “former Mayor Mayans tried to clean up the corruption in City Hall”. Just what does that mean? What corruption? I always laugh when people say that because I know who Carlos surrounded himself with. One such person, a certain contractor, was brought up on campaign fund raising violations. So, Ruben, what corruption existed??

    That said, you are correct that Carlos has had nothing to do with city hall since 2007. Thank God! However, the problems with Water Walk are a direct result of Carlos’ interference in the Bass Pro deal.

    Voters as a whole whether it be local, state, or national are not better off. Much if not most of it has nothing to do with this city council.

    Spin away………

  14. Pat, what proof do you have that Mayor Mayans interfere in the Bass Pro Shop deal? and when you talk about the people that Mayans surrounded himself with….who are they? Are you talking other Hispanics?

  15. Bob,

    Thank you for another informative article. Is it any wonder that Wichita Eagle readership continues to dwindle? As a citizen and tax payer of Wichita I find it offensive that such clear conflicts of interest are not boldly addressed by our city council leaders. Have we grown dim to the realities of human nature? For example, how likely are we to say “No” to our closest co-workers and friends? Do we not feel more compelled to give to a charitable cause at work when a co-worker or manager asks us to support their fund raising? Perhaps it was because of such conflicts of interest that many companies prohibit such solicitation during business hours. Shouldn’t we expect the same integrity from our local government?

  16. Pingback: Correction
  17. Cybex, Mayans involvement is a matter of public record. In fact, he has been open about it. As to your other question, some Hispanics, some Lebanese, some Europeans.

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