At yesterday’s Wichita City Council meeting, the council took up the issue as to whether the city would participate in the REAP sustainable communities planning process. All council members except Wichita City Council Member Michael O’Donnell (district 4, south and southwest Wichita) voted in favor of participation.
Critics of government planing processes such as this are worried that the planning process would subject us to additional control by the federal government. These are the so-called strings that are thought to accompany federal grants.
(For those who are interested in what strings look like, here’s an example of one that is relatively innocuous. A HUD document titled Program Policy Guidance OSHC-2012-01 explains “Applicants that reach a certain qualifying score under the Regional Planning Grant Program or the Community Challenge Grant Program will receive PSS designation. PSS designation provides your entity access to bonus points for selected other HUD grant programs, technical assistance, and other capacity building opportunities that will strengthen future efforts to apply to the program.” REAP has been awarded this status, as it complied with this “string.”)
James Clendenin (district 3, southeast and south Wichita), asked a series of questions of Joe Yager, chief executive officer of REAP, as to whether these concerns were true. Yager said no, there are no strings accompanying the grant. But what about after the planning process is over in three years? Will the plan be forced upon us, Clendenin asked?
Yager answered no, that local governing bodies would have to vote to implement any of the ideas or programs that resulted from the plan. Nothing will be forced upon us, nothing is mandated, he said. We wold simply have a “toolkit” of things to use.
This view or attitude — that local elected officials will protect us from the harmful elements that will emerge from the plan — is dangerously naive. First, in his short time in office, Clendenin has regularly voted for expansions of government planning, power, and spending. He doesn’t stand out from most other council members, not even the Republican members (except for one), as they also regularly vote for these things.
Second, we know that after the plan is complete there will be the argument that since we have the plan, that since we spent three years and $2.2 million on the process, we might as well go ahead and implement it.
Then, there will be the future grants and undoubtedly increased local spending required to implement the plan.
It’s also naive of Clendenin to ask a professional planner like Yager questions about the desirability of planning. What answer does he think he will get? It’s not that the planners are not honest people. But they have a vested economic and professional interest in seeing that we have more government planning, not less.
One of the things Wichita has agreed to do is to provide in-kind services to the planning consortium in the form of staff time. Wichita City Council Member Michael O’Donnell (district 4, south and southwest Wichita) asked a series of questions determining whether some work might go unperformed as staff members devote time to the planning process.
John Schlegel, Wichita director of planning, assured him no, that no work would go undone as a result of staff members taking on new responsibilities as part of the city’s in-kind contribution.
Two years ago a similar issue arose in Sedgwick County, where staff time was devoted to the oversight of the Intrust Bank Arena. At the time I reported this: “Sedgwick County Commissioner Dave Unruh told the Wichita Eagle that the county did not hire any new staff to perform work that has an estimated value of $2.6 million. My question is this: Is this evidence that there was $2.6 million of slack time in county employee’s schedules? How were they able to get this vast amount of work accomplished? Perhaps after the arena work that has occupied $2.6 million of staff time is complete, we could hire out this staff to earn revenue for the county, as it seems they will have time on their hands.”