Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer to critics: stop grandstanding

Last week’s meeting of the Wichita City Council provided a window into the attitude of Wichita elected officials, particularly Mayor Carl Brewer. Through their actions, and by their words, we see a government that cares little for the rule of law and good government, and one that is disrespectful to citizens who call attention to this.

At issue was the circumvention of a statutorily required public hearing. In order to grant subsidies to a development team lead by David Burk of Marketplace Properties, the city is required to hold a public hearing, which it scheduled for September 13th. That schedule wasn’t fast enough for Burk, so at its August 9th meeting the council approved a letter of intent which formalizes the city’s desire to do the things that were to be the subject of the public hearing.

I, along with others, contend that this action — issuing the letter of intent — reduces the September 13th public hearing to a meaningless exercise. It’s true that several times city bureaucrats and elected officials assured citizens that the letter is non-binding and doesn’t mean the city will go through with the desires expressed in the letter. But I don’t think they believe that themselves, and the language of City Manager Bob Layton reveals so. In the end, the public hearing is reduced to — as the Wichita Eagle’s Rhonda Holman aptly noted — “a pointless afterthought.” See Wichita City Council bows to special interests.

This action is not good government, and it’s not open and transparent government, despite the claims of Mayor Brewer. It goes against our country’s principle of the rule of law, which holds that our laws and orderly procedures are more important than any single person.

Almost as troubling is the attitude of Mayor Brewer and others in city hall towards citizens who oppose their plans. Brewer — perhaps in an effort to maintain a sense of decorum or apparent integrity — does not mention the names of those he criticizes. This allows him to appear noble, but without being accountable to actual people, and the public, for the things he says.

John Todd, an activist and ally of mine who speaks at council meetings frequently — which means, in his case, about once or maybe twice a month — told me of his concerns: “It appears disingenuous to me for the mayor to unilaterally dress down citizens who address the council, with no opportunity for citizen rebuttal. The veiled message that comes through this process is this: ‘If you don’t agree with the mayor and council’s position on any issue, please shut up.’”

Todd is referring to the common practice of the mayor and some council members, notably Janet Miller (district 6, north central Wichita), to criticize opponents after they’ve completed their testimony and returned to the audience, when there is no opportunity for citizens to respond.

At the August 9th meeting, the mayor criticized his political opponents for making use of the opportunity to address the council, and by extension, the people who may be watching on television or the internet: “I hope that today, all of this grandstanding that I saw coming from some of the public and I saw from some of the council members, and questioning council members, elected officials’ integrity — unless you have proof, just because you have a camera here, that there is something you shouldn’t be doing. … This whole thing that I saw going on here today remind me so much of a previous administration where individuals were standing up and thank God we have the cameras here. The media’s here every single meeting.”

What’s particularly deplorable about the mayor’s remarks is that he’s criticizing people for speaking at a public hearing. Yes, city officials say the agenda item was only to consider a letter of intent that does not bind the city council. But that legalistic interpretation ignores the practical political reality that this meeting was, de facto, the public hearing for this project.

This is not the first time the mayor has complained about his critics. In the past, the mayor has said: “We need every person’s ideas, recommendations, and their opinion. … Being quiet and then complaining about it later isn’t going to be good for you or the community.”

But when citizens take the mayor’s advice — showing initiative, not being quiet, and stating opinions beforehand — now the mayor calls that grandstanding.

The mayor has also called his critics “naysayers” and complained that they have received too much media attention.

The mayor should take notice, however, that most people who care about public affairs and policy are severely disappointed with news media coverage of city hall events. The resources of news gathering agencies, especially newspapers, are severely depleted as compared to the past. In my coverage of a talk given by former Wichita Eagle editor Davis Merritt, I wrote this: “A question that I asked is whether the declining resources of the Wichita Eagle might create the danger that local government officials feel they can act under less scrutiny, or is this already happening? Merritt replied that this has been going on for some time. ‘The watchdog job of journalism is incredibly important and is terribly threatened.’ When all resources go to cover what must be covered — police, accidents, etc. — there isn’t anything left over to cover what should be covered. There are many important stories that aren’t being covered because the ‘boots aren’t on the street anymore,’ he said.” See Former Wichita Eagle editor addresses journalism, democracy, May 11, 2009.

In his remarks to me, John Todd wrote: “Diversity of opinion and the open discussion of divergent opinions are important parts of good government.” But citizens who observe the actions of the Wichita City Council — the issuance of this letter of intent being only the most recent example — and who sense the attitude of the mayor and some council members towards those who express opinions outside the orthodoxy — are likely to conclude, as many do, that it’s just not worth the effort to get involved.


14 thoughts on “Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer to critics: stop grandstanding”

  1. Mayor Brewer had such a bad day last week that he had to be hospitalized. It was good news when the media reported that he did not have a heart attack. I didn’t realize that wielding his rubber stamp could be so strenuous in distributing favors to the “special” developers seeking their city subsidies at this meeting.

  2. I have tried to determine where is the “Water Walk”. Its certainly not in Wichita. The money raised by Wichita for water walk is certainly not being used to create a water walk. Where is it and where is the money. Maybe I have missed something.

  3. I really could not even understand what the mayor was saying. He sure does not speak very well. Actaully, he sounds really dumb. It’s a sad statment on Wichita’s behalf that he’s the best we can do. But then again, who would want the job? The mayor is little more than a figurehead with our form of city government. Still…

  4. Skip, Shame on you for not believing in Water Walk. If you close your eyes and grit your teeth it will appear. You just have to imagine.

  5. bob, sorry to deflate your ego but you give yourself and your sidekicks waaaay too much credit. the mayor was not speaking to y’all, he was speaking to o’donnell.

    furthermore, the podium is not for you to argue with the mayor or the other council members. you want the bully pulpit, then run for the seat. oh, forgot, you have no chance, zero, nada, zilch, in ever, ever getting elected to the city council.

  6. Anonymous, “sorry to deflate YOUR ego”, but there are a lot more of us out here than you might suppose. Citizens are supposed to be able to speak out and on subjects that have not already been decided (letter of intent).

  7. Bob, you ought to remove the most recent “anonymous” comment as not conforming to facts. The may addressed an issue that you, and only you raised, and he specifically refered to those in the public.

    But like what you say, when the mayor doesn’t use names, the casual observer doesn’t know who he’s talking about, and it’s hard to pin him down and hold him accountable. I think he likes it that way.

  8. I appreciates that he lets people talk more than the county does. BUT… it is sad that we don’t have the right to talk on any topic or an expectation that we can have a meaningful exchange.

  9. Mayor Brewer is poorly educated and a poor speaker, but the people of Wichita elected him twice so what does that say about the voters. Mr. Brewer, as a council member, took cash regularly from an individual from his community that was the “handler” for developers. Currently, the word in the streets is that he is tired of receiving annual retainer payments and now demands payments for each projects that he gets passed. No wonder he had chest pain.

  10. “Currently, the word in the streets is that he is tired of receiving annual retainer payments and now demands payments for each projects that he gets passed.”

    Unbelieveable such lies…..

  11. It does seem like he was speaking about O’Donnel in particular, putting him down for daring to question any other council member’s integrity. Unbelievable! And so cowardly, it’s easy to criticize someone when they can’t respond. I also thought it interesting how quickly he went from “we must be transparent” to “as transparent as we can be”.

  12. Soon, we will know who is lying Anonymous. Mr. Brewer was part of several executive sessions that were found guilty of violating the open meetings law…..is that a lie too?

  13. It seems that what is being over looked is the fact that O’Donnell insinuated that the rest of the council was on the take. While O’Donnell certainly has the right to free speech, he nor we should overlook the fact that people are innocent until proven guilty. Unless O’Donnell has evidence, than he’s doing nothing but slinging mud and that does little for his credibility or for the service to the public.

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