Wichita to hold public hearing, again

On Tuesday the Wichita City Council will consider whether to set June 5th as the date to re-hold the public hearing on the K-96 Greenwich STAR Bond District Plan. The council held a public hearing on this matter in February, but there was a mistake in the ordinance accompanying the original public hearing. Therefore, the need for the second public hearing.

I find myself torn, not wanting to root for the competent administration of bad policies. But Wichita seems to have administrative difficulties implementing the bad programs it has passed.

A history of blunders, and worse

This is not the only recent example of the city making such a mistake. Last October the city had to re-hold a public hearing regarding a tax abatement. The reason was a mistake in the dates published regarding the holding of the hearing. City documents describe the problem: “The notice incorrectly stated that a public hearing would be held on August 3, 2010. The item was heard by the Council on September 21, 2010 and was approved. Since the August date was prior to the publication, there was no proper notification. Therefore, a new public hearing is required.”

In March, there was the mistake notifying the Kansas Department of Revenue regarding the Community Improvement District (CID) tax on the Cabela’s store, and so the store was not authorized to collect the extra tax, even through it did for about two weeks before the mistake was realized. See Wichita Eagle, City error will delay funds from Cabela’s special sales tax.

The details of other mistakes are not available to the public. Last week the council approved a settlement of $80,000 to a person injured by the allegedly negligent action of a Wichita street maintenance employee. In response to my inquiry, the city responded that the employee was disciplined, but would not provide additional details. Accidents will happen, but when they cost this much, citizens have the right to know how the city responds. In this case, we don’t know this.

So who is responsible for these mistakes? We don’t know for sure, but when the city council originally considered this item that it must now re-consider, the resolution and accompanying exhibits were approved as to form by Wichita city attorney Gary E. Rebenstorf. These documents may be viewed at Resolution Considering the Establishment of the K-96 Greenwich STAR Bond District.

Under Rebenstorf, the city periodically violates the Kansas Open Meetings Act. In 2009, the Wichita Eagle reported: “City Attorney Gary Rebenstorf apologized for the violation and said he takes the blame for it. ‘I will make every effort to further a culture of openness and ensure that like mistakes are avoided in the future,’ he said.”

Since then, Rebenstorf has had several chances to help citizens seek access to government records by upholding the clear meaning of the Kansas Open Records Act, but has sided with government seeking to keep secrets. See For Wichita city government, open records are not valued for more.

The mistakes flowing from his office, coupled with his hostility towards the citizens of Wichita, suggest that it is time for Wichita city attorney Rebenstorf to retire.


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