Update: Wichita city sales tax not passed

There was no successful Wichita city sales tax election. City documents were mistaken, which raises more issues.

The agenda packet for this week’s meeting of the Wichita City Council held a surprise: The city had passed a one cent per dollar sales tax.

In the agenda for March 5, 2019, as part of item V-3, titled “Private Development Agreement with Wichita Riverfront LP (District IV),” there is a development agreement between the city and a group wanting to develop city-owned land near the new baseball stadium. Section 6.03 of the development agreement holds this surprise:

The 1% City sales tax has been approved at an election, and the City agrees that the City sales tax revenues generated within the STAR Bond District will be committed to pay the principal and interest of the STAR Bonds.” (emphasis added)

It turns out this is a mistake. The city’s chief economic development official told me, “When we draft new agreements, we often cut and paste language from previous agreements to help build a base document.”

This language has been removed from the agreement, he also said, as it has “no purpose in this agreement.”

This still leaves a few questions:

First, from which previous agreement was this copied? Which agreement (or potential agreement) contained a statement that city voters approved a city sales tax? Which election?

Second, what if the council had passed this agreement with this language included?

Third, this is evidence of extreme carelessness. We’ve been told that this development agreement has been in negotiations for several months. Yet, this mistake somehow survived and almost became part of a binding document.

For more on this matter, see:

In Wichita, no tenant poaching, unless waived

The city of Wichita has included anti-poaching clauses in development agreements to protect non-subsidized landlords, but the agreements are without teeth.

The Wichita City Council is considering a development agreement between the city and a group wanting to develop city-owned land near the new baseball stadium. In the agenda for March 5, 2019, as part of item V-3, titled “Private Development Agreement with Wichita Riverfront LP (District IV),” there is this in the city’s “analysis” section:

For and in consideration of the Purchase Rights granted Developer herein, from the Effective Date of this Agreement for a period of ten (10) years after the Completion of Construction for the Phase One Development, Developer and each of its members hereby agrees and consents that it shall not, directly or indirectly, market, solicit, promote or attempt to lease commercial space in the Private Development to then-current tenants of properties located within a distance of two (2) miles extending from the outside boundary of the Private Development Site. (emphasis added)

While the city doesn’t provide a reason for this provision of the agreement, we might call it the “anti-poaching” clause. Since the city is giving land to the ballpark developers at (essentially) zero cost, that gives them an advantage over other developers who have not received such subsidy. The ballpark developers could use that cost advantage to lure (poach) tenants from nearby locations. Those landlords who lose tenants might feel they have been discriminated against. They’d be correct.

While this anti-poaching policy seems reasonable, the city gives itself an escape hatch. In the actual agreement between the city and the ballpark developer we find that the developer shall not poach without “the City’s providing written consent waiving this restriction with respect to such Potential Tenant.” 1

In other words, the city can waive the anti-poaching clause. There is no need for anyone to give a reason why a waiver is necessary. The document is silent as to whether a waiver requires city council approval.

This isn’t the first time the city has included an anti-poaching clause with a waiver provision. On December 19, 2017 the city council considered a development agreement for the Spaghetti Works development near Naftzger Park in downtown. The city’s analysis described an anti-poaching clause, but the actual development agreement lets the city waive the clause. In this case, all the city must do is fail to object to a poached tenant, and the clause is waived. 2


Notes

  1. Development agreement, section 3.10: “Business Restriction Radius. For and in consideration of the Purchase Rights granted Developer herein, from the Effective Date of this Agreement for a period of ten (10) years after the Completion of Construction for the Phase One Development, Developer and each of its members hereby agrees and consents that it shall not, directly or indirectly, market, solicit, promote or attempt to lease commercial space in the Private Development to then-current tenants of properties located within a distance of two (2) miles extending from the outside boundary of the Private Development Site (“Business Restriction Radius”) as shown on Exhibit L, to avoid and/or minimize material economic impact to the established businesses within the Business Restriction Radius without: (i) the Developer’s providing to the City and the then-current landlord of such potential tenant (“Potential Tenant”) sixty (60) days’ prior written notice of the intent to enter into lease negotiations with such Potential Tenant within the Business Restriction Radius, and (ii) the City’s providing written consent waiving this restriction with respect to such Potential Tenant. This restriction shall not apply to a Potential Tenant if such Potential Tenant (i) has multiple locations within the City of Wichita at the time of such solicitation, or (ii) such Potential Tenant is considering opening up a second location within the Private Development Site in addition to maintaining its current location within the Business Restriction Radius.”
  2. City of Wichita, agenda packet for December 19, 2017, agenda item IV-6, “Petition to Approve a Community Improvement District and approval of a Development Agreement for Spaghetti Works (District I).” From the city’s analysis” “The agreement includes a retail relocation restriction for the first three years following the Certificate of Completion for Phases 1 and 2. The boundaries for the relocation restriction are 1st Street on the north, Waterman Street on the south, Broadway Avenue on the west and Washington Avenue on the east.”

    From the development agreement: “Section 4.14. Relocation Restrictions. For a period of three years following the City’s acceptance of a Certificate of Full Completion of Phases 1 and 2 of the SW Project, the Developer or approved assignee shall present to the City a written description of potential retailer or restaurant tenants to be located within Phases 1 and 2 of the SW Project which are relocating from a site within the area bounded by 1st Street on the North, Waterman Street on the South, Broadway Street on the West, and Washington Avenue on the East (the “Restricted Area”). Such description shall be presented to the City within thirty (30) days prior to the date when the Developer or approved assignee expect to enter into any legal obligation for the lease of such retail or restaurant tenant space. The City shall have the absolute right to refuse any such prospective tenant presented by the Developer. If the City Representative does not provide a written objection to Developer within ten (10) business days of presentment, such non-response shall constitute a waiver of any objection to Developer’s proposed sale or lease. The Developers further agree to obtain a covenant from any assignee or purchaser of an ownership interest in the SW Project to abide by the terms of this Section 4.14.” (emphasis added)

Wichita city sales tax passed

Wichita voters might be surprised to learn that they passed a city sales tax, according to city documents.

In 2014 the Wichita City Council allowed voters to decide on a temporary one cent per dollar Wichita city sales tax. That would have taken the sales tax in the city from 7.5 percent to 8.5 percent. The matter failed to pass, with 62 percent of voters against the tax.

But wait. According to the agenda packet for the council’s meeting on March 5, 2019, a one-cent city sales tax has been approved at an election.

In the agenda for that day, as part of item V-3, titled “Private Development Agreement with Wichita Riverfront LP (District IV),” there is a development agreement between the city and a group wanting to develop city-owned land near the new baseball stadium. Section 6.03 of the development agreement holds this surprise:

The 1% City sales tax has been approved at an election, and the City agrees that the City sales tax revenues generated within the STAR Bond District will be committed to pay the principal and interest of the STAR Bonds.” (emphasis added)

That’s news.

This error — if it is an error — is much more than a simple typographical error or misspelled word. I’ve asked the city for an explanation of what this means.

Something like this must be more than a random mistake. We need to know: How did this statement make its way into an official city document, specifically an agreement between the city and a business partner?

Are city officials planning another sales tax election? Not only planning an election but banking on the passage of the tax?

Is the business partner relying on a new Wichita city sales tax? Did the city promise this?

Is this something else we haven’t been told, like a secret deal to sell city-owned land for $1 per acre?

Is this someone’s idea of a joke?

No matter what explanation the city may provide, it’s difficult to fathom how language like this appears in an official city document unless someone is thinking about this — and wishes for new taxes.

I’ll let you know if I get a response from Scot Rigby, who is Assistant City Manager, Director of Development Services for the City of Wichita.

Update: It was a mistake, the city says. See Update: Wichita city sales tax not passed.

Excerpt from Wichita city council agenda packet. Click for larger.

Coverage of Wichita baseball owner Lou Schwechheimer

Press coverage of new Wichita baseball team majority owner Lou Schwechheimer.

We don’t know much about the ownership team of the new Wichita baseball team, led by majority owner Lou Schwechheimer. But here’s a look at some of the press coverage from November 2015, when Schwechheimer was announced as part of the new owners of the New Orleans Zephyrs AAA minor league baseball team (later renamed the Baby Cakes).

The New Orleans Times-Picayune contributed this quote: 1

“Our goal is to make the New Orleans Zephyrs one of the top franchises in all of Minor League Baseball. With the great South Louisiana fans, the love of sports here and our hard work, we have every reason to believe that we will succeed,” Schwechheimer said.

“New Orleans will be in the top tier of attendance, because this is a great town. This is a resilient town. This is a magical town. … I can promise you this ballpark will come alive. We will provide first class family entertainment where families can come out with their kids, where grandparents can bring their grandkids to their first game, where young couples can go on their first date. It’ll be a family place. We only ask the fans in New Orleans one thing: just come once. Let us earn your trust one time and I promise you’ll be back.”

The news organ of minor league baseball reported this: “Our goal is to make the New Orleans Zephyrs one of the top franchises in all of Minor League Baseball,” Schwechheimer said. “With the great South Louisiana fans, the love of sports here, and our hard work, we have every reason to believe that we will succeed.” 2

In 2016, local media reported this: “Schwechheimer, announced Monday as manager and controller of a company that has bought 50 percent of the New Orleans Zephyrs, said that type of diligence, dedication and now experience will be used to turn around this city’s Triple-A team.” 3

In 2018, at least a few people in New Orleans weren’t happy with Schwechheimer’s plans to move the team to Wichita: “Relocating the Baby Cakes to Wichita, a city with one-third the market of New Orleans would be in many ways the final act of betrayal by owner Lou Schwechheimer. First, Schwechheirmer changed the team name from the Zephyrs, which New Orleans embraced, to the Baby Cakes. The name is loathed by most in the New Orleans area.” 4

An unhappy fan submitted this letter to The Times-Picayune: 5

The Babycakes were never committed to New Orleans

After only two years, the cleat finally dropped. The organization that owns the team formerly known as the Zephyrs is decamping New Orleans for the friendlier and far more lucrative confines of a new ballpark in Wichita, Kan. Hope they come up with a catchy nickname.

This group of carpetbaggers from New England were on their way out the door the day they walked into New Orleans. They clearly demonstrated their utter lack of regard for this community and for the game of baseball when they adopted the most demeaning, the most nonsensical and the least authentic nickname they could have come up with. It wasn’t even a part of our community’s well-known idiosyncratic idiom.

Sure, they sold tons of merchandise the first year, then in only two years presided over the dissolution of a quarter of a century of AAA baseball in a major league market. That was no accident. To demonstrate how bush league these guys are, they didn’t even sew the logo or the numbers — much less player names — on their jerseys. They simply printed the shirts. Even Little League teams have numbers and team names sewn on.

The New Orleans Times-Picayune also reports that the Baby Cakes will be leaving before the end of the team’s stadium lease: “The New Orleans Baby Cakes have filed an application to relocate the team to Wichita, Kansas, according to the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District. The LSED said in a release Thursday (Sept. 6) the team is expected to stay until the expiration of the lease through the 2021 season. The Wichita Eagle reports the city hopes to have a team in place by 2020. That would make 2019 the final season for the Cakes in the New Orleans market.” 6 Minutes of the October 25, 2018 meeting of LSED confirm that the lease runs through 2021. 7 This means the Baby Cakes, if playing in Wichita in 2020 as planned, will have left New Orleans with two seasons remaining on the lease.


Notes

  1. Boudwin, Julie. New Orleans Zephyrs announce new ownership group, day-to-day management team. The Times-Picayune, November 30, 2015. Available at https://www.nola.com/baby-cakes/2015/11/new_orleans_zephyrs_1.html.
  2. MiLB.com. Schwechheimer introduced as Z’s owner. November 30, 2015. Available at .
  3. Williams, Darrell. New owner Lou Schwechheimer tasked with turning New Orleans Zephyrs around. The New Orleans Advocate, April 22, 2016. Available at https://www.theadvocate.com/new_orleans/sports/zephyrs/article_0119ed0a-4d00-5a7e-be97-00d430c0f819.html.
  4. Boyd, Kevin. BREAKING: New Orleans Baby Cakes Are Heading To Wichita After 2019. Available at https://thehayride.com/2018/09/breaking-new-orleans-baby-cakes-are-heading-to-wichita-after-2019/.
  5. Letters, September 14, 2018. Available at https://www.nola.com/opinions/2018/09/babycakes_leaving.html.
  6. Dabe, Christopher. Baby Cakes on the move: team to leave after lease expires, LSED says. The Times-Picayune, September 6, 2018. Available at https://www.nola.com/baby-cakes/2018/09/baby_cakes_moving_wichita.html.
  7. Available at https://www.lsedgov.com/uploads/1/0/9/6/109696749/october_minutes.pdf.

Slow down on Wichita ballpark land deal

A surprise deal that has been withheld from citizens will be considered by the Wichita City Council this week.

Wichitans were probably surprised to learn Sunday that the city plans to sell land near the new baseball stadium to the owners of the new baseball Wichita team.

Surprised for several reasons: First, while the city completed an agreement with the new team last year, the land sale was not disclosed to the public. There appears to be no prior public mention of this.

Second, the city plans to sell land for $1 per acre.

Third: While the Wichita Eagle reported this story Sunday 1 We might have known as early as Friday, except that city council agendas were not available due to a website problem. The website was fixed Monday afternoon.

Here’s what the agenda packet holds for item V-3, titled “Private Development Agreement with Wichita Riverfront LP (District IV).”

“As part of the City’s effort to attract affiliated baseball to Wichita and secure development activity to help pay for the stadium STAR and TIF bonds, the City extended the invitation for interested team ownerships to have development opportunities surrounding the stadium. The New Orleans’s team ownership did express that as a requirement for their interest in Wichita they required development rights around the stadium.”

This is the first time the city has revealed that development opportunities surrounding the stadium were a requirement of the baseball team deal.

From the agenda: “City grants the Developer exclusive right to purchase the Private Development Site for the development of the hospitality, commercial, retail, office and residential uses, as contemplated herein, for $1.00 an acre.”

How much land at one dollar per acre? Earlier, the agenda holds this: “The City owns approximately 24 acres at the former Lawrence Dumont Stadium site. After securing the final footprint of the stadium site, adjacent streets, infrastructure and riverfront enhancements, it is estimated that the remaining property available for private development will be 4.25 acres.” (The Eagle article reported the sale would be 24 acres, but the agenda contradicts that.)

It is troubling that the city has not been forthright in sharing this with us before now. Besides the agenda, the Eagle reported this:

“It goes back to the partnership that we have worked out with the team,” said Scot Rigby, assistant city manager and director of development services, whose department came up with the agreement.

“That’s where we struck that agreement on the value of the ground. For the city, we’ve already owned that property,” he said. “If we didn’t do anything with it, it would be undeveloped property. So the value for us is to get it in development as quickly as possible.”

Also, from the Eagle:

Having the baseball team expand its operations from baseball to real estate along the river has been part of the plan since talks started between the team owners and city officials about three years ago, and it played a major role in attracting the team to Wichita, officials with the city and the team said.

“We needed a team that played the level of baseball that was attractive for the community and important in terms of affiliated baseball at the Triple-A level. But we also wanted a team that could deliver on the development,” Layton said.

Why didn’t the city feel it could share that with us at the time the deal was struck for the team to move to Wichita?

There’s also this. We don’t know much about the ownership team, led by Schwechheimer. At least some in New Orleans weren’t happy with his plans to move the team from there to Wichita: “Relocating the Baby Cakes to Wichita, a city with one-third the market of New Orleans would be in many ways the final act of betrayal by owner Lou Schwechheimer. First, Schwechheirmer changed the team name from the Zephyrs, which New Orleans embraced, to the Baby Cakes. The name is loathed by most in the New Orleans area.” 2

More troubling is this: Schwechheimer bought the New Orleans team in 2016. At the time, local media reported this: “Schwechheimer, announced Monday as manager and controller of a company that has bought 50 percent of the New Orleans Zephyrs, said that type of diligence, dedication and now experience will be used to turn around this city’s Triple-A team.” 3

The Eagle reports this: “Having the baseball team expand its operations from baseball to real estate along the river has been part of the plan since talks started between the team owners and city officials about three years ago, and it played a major role in attracting the team to Wichita, officials with the city and the team said.”

If all this reporting is true, talks about moving the team from New Orleans started in 2016, the same year Schwechheimer purchased the team and said he would use “diligence” and “dedication” to turn around the New Orleans team.

That’s something to think about. Is this a reliable person?

Also: The $1 per acre reminds us of other $1 dollar deals the city has crafted. In 2012, the city leased land it owned in Waterwalk for $1 per year for 93 years. There were apartments built, but the city did not follow through on an important part of the deal. 4 Other developments in Waterwalk were leased for $1 per year. 5

In these instances, apartments and a hotel were built. But in general, Waterwalk has been a dismal failure, and in recent years its fortunes have declined farther.

In 2011 the city decided to build a parking garage downtown with retail space. It leased 8,500 square feet of that space to Dave Burk for $1 per year. Much of that space has remained vacant since it was built.

Can’t we see some progress on these projects before the city does it again?

Then, these developers are from out-of-town, like — dare I say — the Minnesota Guys. At one time the toast of the town, their multi-count criminal indictment for securities fraud is on appeal to the Kansas Supreme Court on a jurisdictional matter. Other than that, they left a trail of broken promises and bad debts in downtown Wichita.

For these reasons — a surprise announcement that has been withheld from citizens, a broken website, repeating a pattern that hasn’t been successful — we need to take at least a few weeks to mull over this deal.

Then, there’s this: In the agenda packet, section 6.03 of the development agreement holds this surprise: “The 1% City sales tax has been approved at an election, and the City agrees that the City sales tax revenues generated within the STAR Bond District will be committed to pay the principal and interest of the STAR Bonds.”

I have no idea what this means. But how did this appear in an official city document and an agreement with a developer?


Notes

  1. Swaim, Chance. Wichita plans to sell riverfront property near new ball park for $1 an acre. Wichita Eagle, March 3, 2019. Available at https://www.kansas.com/news/politics-government/article226994834.html.
  2. Boyd, Kevin. BREAKING: New Orleans Baby Cakes Are Heading To Wichita After 2019. Available at https://thehayride.com/2018/09/breaking-new-orleans-baby-cakes-are-heading-to-wichita-after-2019/.
  3. Williams, Darrell. New owner Lou Schwechheimer tasked with turning New Orleans Zephyrs around. The New Orleans Advocate, April 22, 2016. Available at https://www.theadvocate.com/new_orleans/sports/zephyrs/article_0119ed0a-4d00-5a7e-be97-00d430c0f819.html.
  4. Weeks, Bob. Wichita WaterWalk apartment deal not good for citizens. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/wichita-waterwalk-apartment-deal-not-good-for-citizens/.
  5. Weeks, Bob. Waterwalk hotel deal breaks new ground for Wichita subsidies. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/waterwalk-hotel-deal-breaks-new-ground-for-wichita-subsidies/.

Kansas GDP

In the third quarter of 2018, the Kansas economy grew at the annual rate of 2.3 percent, down from 4.7 percent the previous quarter.

In the third quarter of 2018, the Kansas economy grew at the annual rate of 2.3 percent in real (inflation-adjusted) dollars, according to statistics released today by Bureau of Economic Analysis, a division of the United States Department of Commerce. GDP for the quarter was at the annual rate of $165,415 million.

Kansas real GDP growth through 2018-Q3. Click for larger.
The rate of 2.3 percent ranked thirty-eighth among the states. In the second quarter of 2018, Kansas GDP was seventh-best in the country.

Quarterly GDP growth for states can be volatile, as shown in the nearby chart.

For Kansas, industries that differed markedly from the nation include agriculture, durable goods manufacturing, real estate and rental and leasing, and government and government enterprises.

Newsletter for February 24, 2019

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Sedgwick County job growth exceeds national rate

In the third quarter of 2018, Sedgwick County quarterly job growth exceeded the national rate for the first time in nearly ten years.

Data released today by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, part of the United States Department of Labor, show an improving jobs picture for Sedgwick County.

Data from the Bureau’s Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW) program show that from September 2017 to September 2018, Sedgwick County gained 5,200 jobs, which is a rate of 1.9 percent, as calculated by BLS. For the nation, growth was 1.6 percent.

While the rate in Sedgwick County for the third quarter of 2018 exceeded the national rate, for the most recent four quarters the average rate for Sedgwick County was 0.85 percent, and 1.55 percent for the nation. This was the first quarter since 2009 in which Sedgwick County job growth outpaced the nation.

Average weekly wages in Sedgwick County increased by 3.8 percent over the year to $880. For the nation, wages rose by 3.3 percent to $1,055.

Click charts for larger versions.

Newsletter for February 17, 2019

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Is the Wichita mayor satisfied with this?

A gloomy jobs forecast is greeted with apparent approval by Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell.

We have to wonder: Did Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell read before tweeting?

Click for larger.
A recent Longwell tweet references news reports regarding a forecast from Intrust Bank Wealth Services. Titled 2019 Economic Outlook and Market Perspectives, it contains this regarding Wichita:

The Wichita economy saw jobs lost in 2017, but improved last year. Job growth is expected to trend slightly higher in 2019, buoyed by manufacturing and professional services. We anticipate the Wichita economy to expand this year, but grow at slower rate than the U.S. and the majority of metro areas. Business/consumer optimism and aerospace demand should help power the local economy; however, trade issues, commodity prices, lack of skilled labor, and slow population growth will likely limit growth in southeast Kansas.

There’s not much good news in this forecast, except that job growth is expected to grow rather than decline as it did two years ago. So we have to wonder why the mayor retweeted — presumably approvingly — this grim forecast.

It’s a continuation of a trend:

  • Several times Longwell and other city officials have promoted a study claiming Wichita is a highly “recession-proof” city. That study is nonsense and ignores key economic data and the definition of a recession. See Wichita mayor promotes inaccurate picture of local economy and Wichita, a recession-proof city.

  • Responding to a different forecast of job growth in Wichita for 2019, Scot Rigby, who is Assistant City Manager, Director of Development Services for the City of Wichita, tweeted “great news.” But that forecast is as gloomy as the Intrust forecast, with job growth expected to be about half the national rate. See Job growth in Wichita: Great news?

  • Generally, Wichita officials are pleased with the local economy (Former Wichita City Council Member Pete Meitzner: “We have enjoyed great progress and growth during my two terms as a City Council member and I plan to do my part to assure Sedgwick County is part of this continued success.”) But the available statistics are grim and are improving only slowly. See Growing the Wichita economy.

If Wichitans don’t read beyond the rosy headlines and tweets from the mayor and city officials, they will be uninformed, and unfortunately, misinformed by people we should be able to trust.

Sedgwick County Commission needs to slow down, get things right

Sedgwick County needs to make sure past issues are known and settled before proceeding with hiring a new county manager, writes former commissioner Richard Ranzau.

While most members of the Sedgwick County Commission are eager to move on from events of the past two years, it’s important to know what really happened. Some important questions:

  • A majority of commissioners wanted to fire former manager Michael Scholes, with chair David Dennis presenting Scholes with an ultimatum on September 28, 2018. Later, in November, the same commissioners hired an outside law firm to investigate Scholes so that a politically correct reason could be given for his dismissal. We need to know more about the real reason why commissioners wanted to fire Scholes.

  • What is contained within the report (identified in county documents as “Management study – Stinson, Leonard & Street”) used as the cover for firing Scholes? The county will not supply the document, citing attorney-client privilege and personnel confidentiality. This allows commissioners to make all sorts of claims that we can’t verify. For example: The many high-level employees that purportedly quit because of Scholes — can’t we get even one name?

  • Some conclusions from the Stinson report has been leaked, and the bad conduct by Scholes was really quite minor.

  • The Wichita Eagle has reported: “Commission Chairman David Dennis said Wednesday [November 26, 2018] that he’s ready to move forward with a probe examining commissioners’ actions and whether they’ve contributed to low morale and an exodus of top county employees.” As Ranzau writes below, the commission is being asked to cancel this investigation.

County Commission needs to slow down, get things right
By Richard Ranzau

Members of the Sedgwick County Commission have two very important decisions to make, and they need to get them both right.

First, they need to decide if they are going to conduct the badly needed ethics investigation into commissioner misconduct that occurred in 2017 and 2018. Previously, the Commission voted to conduct this investigation but they have yet to follow through. Failed leadership and improper behavior by the some of the commissioners during those years has led to multiple FBI investigations and a soon to be completed KOMA investigation by the District Attorney’s office. The reputation of the Commission has been shattered.

Public faith and confidence in this once highly respected organization can only be restored if the Commission hires an outside entity to investigate unethical and inappropriate commissioner behavior and to make recommendations for policy changes that could deter future misconduct. This must be an honest and sincere effort by the Commissioners to find out the truth, no matter how painful it may be.

All staff members and employees should be allowed to fully participate in the investigation without fear of repercussion. Senior staff members with extensive knowledge of what happened, including the interim county manager, should be supportive of this investigation and provide honest and candid information about what they know.

Citizens may wonder why we need another investigation, given that an expensive effort was recently completed and used to justify the dismissal of the previous county manager. But that investigation was a sham. A majority of commissioners had already decided to fire the manager. They needed an investigation to cover up their real reasons for firing him. This is the behavior that needs to be exposed.

This investigation needs to be completed BEFORE the Commission makes its second important decision: hiring a new county manager.

The current rush to appoint the interim county manager without a nationwide search is imprudent for multiple reasons. First, he has intimate knowledge of what happened over the last two years and the public needs to be assured that he will fully support and participate in the ethics investigation.

Secondly, there is an ongoing effort by four commissioners to put forth a public vote to rescind the decision to proceed with an investigation. Commissioner Howell is being pressed to support this effort, not only by the Chairman, but also the interim county manager and county counselor. In fact, the interim county manager has asked Commissioner Howell to make the motion to end the investigation.

The fact that the interim county manager would try to coordinate a vote to stop an ethics investigation that he would be a key witness in is as surprising as it is troubling. He knows what happened and he shared many of the same concerns as the previous county manager and county counselor. So why would he support and COORDINATE an effort to cancel this badly needed investigation? Is he under pressure by commissioners?

The timing of this effort to stop the ethics investigation coupled with the rush to hire a potentially key witness as the new county manager, certainly raises the question as to whether or not there is a quid pro quo going on. I certainly hope this is not the case, but the optics are horrible. The commission does not need another scandal or coverup.

The Sedgwick County Commission and interim county manager need to take a step back and reconsider what they are doing. Everyone involved needs to demonstrate the courage to do what is right for the community. It is imperative they demonstrate a commitment to open, transparent, and ethical government.

The citizens need to have confidence that the shenanigans of the past, are in fact, in the past. We can’t afford to have the Commission get this wrong.

Another Wichita survey, another set of problems

The Wichita Eagle editorial board notices problems with a survey gathering feedback on Century II.

What will we learn from a survey gathering public opinion on the future of Century II in downtown Wichita? Not much, according to a Wichita Eagle editorial. 1

The editorial presents evidence from an expert indicating the survey will produce results that “will be neither scientifically valid nor representative of the city as a whole.” The problems lie with the nature of the questions and self-selected participants unlikely to be representative of the city.

I commend the editorial board for bringing this issue to our collective attention. It’s important, and not unprecedented in Wichita. If we look beyond this survey, we’ll find other examples of the same:

  • The Project Wichita survey suffers from the same faults, as I show in Project Wichita survey.

  • In 2014 the city was quite proud of its engagement and positive response regarding the proposed city sales tax. But on election day, 62 percent of voters said no to the tax.

  • In 2013 the city established a website and program called “Activate Wichita.” It was a virtual town hall where citizens and officials could propose ideas and collect feedback. But as I showed, when using the voting system there was no option for expressing disagreement or disapproval with an idea. “Neutral” was as much dissent as Wichitans could express in this system.


Notes

  1. Wichita Eagle Editorial Board. Will Century II survey tell city leaders what Wichitans really think? No. February 15, 2019. Available at https://www.kansas.com/opinion/editorials/article226286910.html.

Newsletter for February 10, 2019

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Naftzger Park costs up, yet again

The cost of fixing an oversight in the design of Naftzger Park in downtown Wichita is rising, and again we’re not to talk about it, even though there are troubling aspects.

Last week the Wichita City Council was scheduled to consider an item regarding the rebuild of Wichita City Council. That item was removed from the agenda the day before the meeting. It now appears on the agenda for the February 12 meeting, and with a higher price tag.

(“Consider” is not quite the right term, as the item was on the council’s consent agenda. That’s where items are passed in bulk, usually without discussion.)

As the city explains in the agenda packet for this week, “Naftzger Park currently has a small pond that acts as a storm water retention facility during rain events. Proposed improvements to Naftzger Park will eliminate the pond and all available storm retention. The project does not include funding for replacing the retention capacity.” The cost is given as $115,000, up from last week’s $85,000.

As explained last week, this seems like a major oversight in the original project plans. The city has regulations regarding stormwater retention that private sector developers must follow. Didn’t any city planners consider these regulations as the project was planned? Didn’t any council member or bureaucrat look at the plans and wonder about stormwater drainage? Wasn’t there a highly-regarded architect designing the park? What about TGC Development, the developer of the surrounding property, to whom the city effectively outsourced the development of Naftzger Park? The construction manager?

Of note: This week the agenda tells us this: “Funding is available for transfer due to the scope of project being adjusted to remove some the structural repairs and the abutment treatment after discussion with the railroad were not successful.” This sounds like structural repairs were planned but not executed. This deserves discussion, but with the item being on the consent agenda, discussion is not likely.

Of further note: The February 5 agenda stated, “Funding is available for transfer due to underruns of bid items upon project completion and favorable bid pricing.” This made it sound like all planned work was completed and the city spent less than budgeted, even if through happenstance. This week we’re being told something different.

Newsletter for February 3, 2019

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Facade improvement program raises issues in Wichita

An incentive program in Wichita should cause us to question why investment in Wichita is not feasible without subsidy.

At its February 5, 2019 meeting, the Wichita City Council will consider an item regarding economic development in Delano. The owner of a building there has applied for financial assistance under the city’s facade improvement program.

The purpose of the facade improvement program, according to city documents, is to provide “low-cost loans and grants” to help improve the appearance of buildings “located in defined areas needing revitalization, including the City’s core area.”

The matter before the council this week is to accept the petition of the property owner and set February 19, 2019 for the public hearing.

Undoubtedly council members will praise the property owner for deciding to invest in Wichita. I’m glad he is, and it sounds like the project will improve the Delano area. But the need for this item raises a few questions regarding public policy in Wichita that are more important than any single project.

First, city documents state: “The Office of Economic Development has reviewed the economic (‘gap’) analysis of the project and determined there is a financial need for incentives based on the current market.” In other words, the city has determined that this project is not economically feasible unless it receives a government subsidy. Will any council members ask why is it not possible to renovate a building in the core of Wichita without subsidy? What factors in Wichita — specifically Delano — make it impossible to have investment like this without subsidy?

Second: Wichita officials, especially Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell, tell us that the city doesn’t use cash as an economic development incentive. But this proposal includes a cash grant of $30,000. This is not a low-cost loan that must be repaid. Instead, it is an incentive, a gift — and it’s cash.

Naftzger Park cost rising, and we’re not to talk about it

The cost of the Naftzger Park makeover is rising, will be paid for with borrowed funds, and possibly handled without public discussion.

The cost of the Naftzger Park project in downtown Wichita is rising, according to an item the Wichita City Council will consider at its Tuesday February 5, 2019 meeting. According to city documents, an additional $85,000 is needed for stormwater retention, a function the former pond provided.

This seems like a major oversight in the original project plans. The city has regulations regarding stormwater retention that private sector developers must follow. Didn’t any city planners consider these regulations as the project was planned? Didn’t any council member or bureaucrat look at the plans and wonder about stormwater drainage? Wasn’t there a highly-regarded architect designing the park? What about TGC Development, the developer of the surrounding property, to whom the city effectively outsourced the development of Naftzger Park? The construction manager?

The extra cost is proposed to come from savings realized in another nearby project. That requires a waiver of policy, according to the agenda: “Staff requested waiver of City Council Policy No. 2 regarding the use of projects savings to allow this transfer of funds.”

On top of that, this money will be borrowed. An accompanying resolution (number 19-048) provides the authorization: “Section 2. Project Financing. All or a portion of the costs of the Project, interest on financing and administrative and financing costs shall be financed with the proceeds of general obligation bonds of the City.”

Borrowing this money, even though it is a small amount, is a significant public policy issue. The city decided to use tax increment financing (TIF) to pay for this project. City officials pitch this as a method of financing that costs the general public nothing, as the TIF bonds are repaid from a project’s future property taxes.

In this case, as the surrounding development by TGC starts to pay higher property taxes, these taxes would be used to pay for Naftzger Park. (Never mind who pays for the public services the development will consume.)

But now, some expenses of the project have been shifted away from TIF to the general city.

The equitable way of handling this is to charge this expense to the TIF district. Either that, or to the responsible parties whose oversight, we now see, was lacking.

By the way, this item is on the consent agenda, meaning there will be no discussion unless a city council member requests the item to be “pulled” for discussion and a potentially separate vote. (A consent agenda is a group of items that are voted on in bulk with a single vote. An item on a consent agenda will be discussed only if a council member requests the item to be “pulled.” If that is done, the item will be discussed. Then it might be withdrawn, voted on by itself, or folded back into the consent agenda with the other items. Generally, consent agenda items are considered by the city to be routine and non-controversial, but that is not always the case.)

Following, an excerpt from the February 5, 2019 city council agenda:

Background: Naftzger Park currently has a small pond that acts as a storm water retention facility during rain events. Proposed improvements to Naftzger Park will eliminate the pond and all available storm retention. The project does not include funding for replacing the retention capacity.

Analysis: With the elimination of the existing pond, underground on-site storage is necessary to prevent a negative impact on the area storm sewer system and the surrounding developments during rain events.

Financial Considerations: Currently, the Stormwater Utility does not have funding available for these improvements. Staff proposes transferring $85,000 in General Obligation bond funding from the Douglas Underpass project. Funding is available for transfer due to underruns of bid items upon project completion and favorable bid pricing. Staff requested waiver of City Council Policy No. 2 regarding the use of projects savings to allow this transfer of funds. The total budget for the stormwater retention facility would be $85,000 and the revised budget for Douglas Underpass would be $2,015,000.

Wichita mayor promotes inaccurate picture of local economy

Wichita city leaders will latch onto any good news, no matter from how flimsy the source. But they ignore the news they don’t like, even though it may come from the U.S. Census Bureau, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, or U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.

In his media briefing today, Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell cited an article promoting the purportedly recession-proof and growing Wichita-area economy. 1

Based on the article 2 Longwell cited Wichita’s low unemployment rate and growing job count.

One quote from the article highlights Wichita’s low unemployment rate: “In 2018, the city saw unemployment fall to 3.5 percent — the lowest it’s been since May 1999.” Here’s some data regarding this claim:

In the table, we see that the unemployment rate (monthly average) for 2018 is nearly unchanged from 1999. Also nearly unchanged for these 19 years are the civilian labor force and number of jobs. Both values are slightly lower now. This is not “steady job growth.”

The article the mayor relies upon doesn’t reflect the economic reality in Wichita. It isn’t even close. Yet the mayor and other city officials have heavily promoted this article on social media.

Mayor Longwell also said, “We want to celebrate some of our successes because it has not been easy to get here and it’s been very intentional, and the things that we’re doing that help make Wichita a great place to live but more importantly a place where we can ride out a potential recession that may hit the rest of the country at some point in time and we think that’s a great place for us to be right now.”

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Regarding recessions and being “recession-proof:” The usual definition of a recession is two consecutive quarters of declining economic activity as measured by gross domestic product. For the nation, the last recession ended in 2009. For metropolitan areas like Wichita GDP data is not available quarterly. Annual data, however, tells us that since 2011 — well after the end of the last national recession — Wichita has had two separate years in which real GDP declined, 2013 and 2017. 3

Click for larger.

That’s like two recessions in Wichita at a time the national economy was growing. Is that recession-proof?

The mayor also presented a forecast that Wichita will add 2,700 jobs in 2019. The source of this forecast is the Center for Economic Development and Business Research at Wichita State University. 4

For the Wichita metropolitan area economy, adding 2,700 jobs in a year represents 0.9 percent job growth. Is that good? Nationally, the economy is expected to continue strong growth, although perhaps slightly slower than in 2018, in which nonfarm jobs grew by 1.8 percent. 5 Nationally, job growth is forecast at 1.7 percent for 2019. 6 Wichita’s forecast rate of 0.9 percent is 53 percent of the national rate — barely more than half.

Click for larger.

The nearby chart illustrates that since the end of the last recession, job growth in Wichita has been below job growth in the nation as a whole. 7 Generally, job growth in Wichita has been at about half the rate of the nation. In 2017, Wichita lost jobs. Yet, City of Wichita officials tout “steady job growth.”

It’s not only jobs and output. Personal income has grown only slowly. 8

The Wichita metropolitan area population is growing, but at a rate slower than most metro areas. From 2010 to 2017, the Wichita metro area grew in population by 2.3 percent. For all U.S. metro areas, the population growth was 6.5 percent. Of the 382 metropolitan areas, Wichita ranked 245. Considering just the change from 2016 to 2017, Wichita’s population grew by 0.1 percent, ranking 268 of the 382 metro areas. All U.S. metro areas grew by 0.8 percent over the same period.

For net domestic migration, Wichita experienced a loss of 2.9 percent of its population from 2010 to 2017. This ranked 295 among metro areas. For 2016 to 2017, Wichita lost 0.5 percent, ranking 293, nearly unchanged from the larger earlier period. 9

This slow population growth and out-migration is happening at the same time Wichita-area leaders tell us that we have great momentum going forward. But the data — domestic migration, employment, gross domestic product, and personal income — don’t support what our leaders tell us.


Notes

  1. City of Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell’s Media Briefing January 31, 2019.
  2. Handy, Emily. The 7 Most Recession-Proof Cities in the US. Livability. January 22, 2019. Available at https://livability.com/topics/careers-opportunities/the-7-most-recession-proof-cities-in-the-us.
  3. U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, Total Real Gross Domestic Product for Wichita, KS (MSA) RGMP48620, retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/RGMP48620, January 31, 2019.
    The All industry total includes all Private industries and Government. Real GDP by metropolitan area is an inflation-adjusted measure of each metropolitan area’s gross product that is based on national prices for the goods and services produced within the metropolitan area.
    Also: U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, Real Gross Domestic Product GDPCA, retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/GDPCA, January 31, 2019.
  4. Center for Economic Development and Business Research at Wichita State University. Wichita Employment Forecast. January 8, 2019. Available at http://www.cedbr.org/forecast-blog/forecasts-wichita/1558-economic-outlook-wichita-2019-january-revision.
  5. Minutes of the Federal Open Market Committee. December 18-19, 2018. Available at https://www.federalreserve.gov/monetarypolicy/fomcminutes20181219.htm.
  6. Yandle, Bruce. Block out the noise: Here’s the 2019 economic outlook. Available at https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/block-out-the-noise-heres-the-2019-economic-outlook.
  7. Weeks, Bob. Wichita employment to grow in 2019. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/economics/wichita-employment-to-grow-in-2019/.
  8. “For all metropolitan areas in the United States, personal income rose by 4.5 percent. For the Wichita metro area, the increase was 2.3 percent. Of 383 metropolitan areas, Wichita’s growth rate was at position 342.’ Weeks, Bob. *Personal income in Wichita rises, but slowly. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/economics/personal-income-in-wichita-rises-but-slowly/.
  9. Weeks, Bob. Wichita migration not improving. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/economics/wichita-migration-not-improving/.

Individual liberty, limited government, economic freedom, and free markets in Wichita and Kansas

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