Tag Archives: Jeff Longwell

Wichita City Council Member Jeff Longwell

Wichita City Arts tech studio proposed

Randy Roebuck, in a presentation at the Wichita city council workshop, promoted the idea of a “digital oasis” in Wichita. It would be a place where people can go to get free help with technologies such as cell phones and computers.

He told of how an Apple Genius Bar does things like this. Council member Jim Skelton asked who runs an Apple Genius Bar? Apple Computer Corporation, of course.

Later council member Paul Gray continued with questions based on Skelton’s. Why not an Apple Genius Bar in Wichita? Why is the city competing with private business? City officials insist they are not trying to compete with private business. Instead, it’s a resource for training and education.

Council member Jeff Longwell said this idea is “on the right path,” as long as it doesn’t cost a lot.

Lavonta Williams said this will attract a different group of people to downtown Wichita. She said it’s something we need.

Mayor Carl Brewer mentioned that not everyone who would want to use a facility like this might not be able to afford its cost. He didn’t mention that someone else should pay for them, but that’s what this program will do.

“It’s part of creating an environment where we have everything that anybody could possibly want. … If the private sector’s really wanting to get out there and they’re willing to invest their dollars and they want to start their business, we should let them.”

This illustrates the mayor’s — and several other council members’ — vision of an expansive city government, providing for citizen needs all the way through arts, entertainment, and now computer tech support.

Then there’s the mayor’s language that we (Wichita city government) should let the private sector do something. I really hope the mayor misspoke here.

This is a bad idea. It seems to me that there may be people in Wichita city hall with too much time on their hands if they have time to come up with ideas like this.

View the video of the portion of the city council workshop where this presentation was made by clicking on Wichita city council workshop, March 24, 2009.

The slides shown to the council members aren’t available on the city’s website, to my knowledge. I captured them from video, and they may be viewed by clicking on Wichita City Arts tech studio presentation.

Read Wichita Eagle reporting by clicking on Cyber Alliance plans to offer free technical training. reporting on KWCH is at Wichita Considers “Digital Oasis”.

YMCA – Wichita conflict of interest

A local non-profit organization, held in high esteem, seeks to purchase property owned by the City of Wichita. So what’s the problem?

During his State of the City address for 2009, Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer revealed his plan for a partnership between the city and the YMCA. So far this partnership has revealed itself in the city’s plan to sell some city-owned land at First and Waco Streets to the YMCA.

Council members Jeff Longwell and Sharon Fearey were appointed to represent the city in negotiations.

The problem is that Longwell is a member of the advisory board for the northwest branch YMCA. This is possibly a conflict of interest. It certainly is the appearance of a conflict of interest, and for that reason, Longwell should step away from the negotiations.

At the same time, the YMCA should request that Longwell be replaced with another council member.

I’m not accusing the YMCA of any wrongdoing.

I’m also not accusing council member Longwell of any wrongdoing.

But I’ve talked to several elected officials and many citizens about this, and only one has thought there wasn’t a problem with this arrangement.

This is especially confounding to me in that I’m sure there is probably no actual conflict of interest — at least as these things go — but its appearance is beyond doubt in the minds of most citizens.

A representative of the YMCA told me that the board Longwell serves on is an advisory board with no decision-making authority.

I asked Longwell if he could understand how people might think there is a conflict of interest, and he said he could appreciate that position. He added that’s why there is more than one city council member representing the city, and, of course, it takes four votes on the council to take any action.

Furthermore, he told me that he was out of town and missed a meeting, so he hasn’t been present at the negotiations.

I’ve talked with several people who have reminded me of the good things the YMCA does for Wichita and the surrounding area.

So why can’t the YMCA and the city conduct these negotiations in a way that eliminates even the slightest whiff of any appearance of a conflict of interest?

People are wondering, especially when it is likely that the land will be sold for much less than what some believe it to be worth.

Wichita TIF public hearing was bait and switch

This appeared in today’s Wichita Eagle.

On Tuesday December 2, 2008, the Wichita City Council held a public hearing on the expansion of the Center City South Redevelopment District, commonly known as the downtown Wichita arena TIF district. As someone with an interest in this matter, I watched the city’s website for the appearance of the agenda report for this meeting. This document, also known as the “green sheets” and often several hundred pages in length, contains background information on items appearing on the meeting’s agenda.

At around 11:30 am Monday, the day before the meeting, I saw that the agenda report was available. I download it and printed the few pages of interest to me.

At the meeting Tuesday morning, I was surprised to hear council member Jim Skelton expressed his dismay that a change to the TIF plan wasn’t included in the material he printed and took home to read. This change, an addition of up to $10,000,000 in spending on parking, is material to the project. It’s also controversial, and if the public had known of this plan, I’m sure that many speakers would have attended the public hearing.

But the public didn’t have much notice of this controversial change to the plan. Inspection of the agenda report document — the version that contains the parking proposal — reveals that it was created at 4:30 pm on Monday. I don’t know how much longer after that it took to be placed on the city’s website. But we can conclude that citizens — and at least one city council member — didn’t have much time to discuss and debate the desirability of this parking plan.

The news media didn’t have time, either. Reporting in the Wichita Eagle on Monday and Tuesday didn’t mention the addition of the money for parking.

This last-minute change to the TIF plan tells us a few things. First, it reveals that the downtown arena TIF plan is a work in progress, with major components added on-the-fly just a few days before the meeting. That alone gives us reason to doubt its wisdom. Citizens should demand that the plan be withdrawn until we have sufficient time to discuss and deliberate matters as important as this. What happened on Tuesday doesn’t qualify as a meaningful public hearing on the actual plan. A better description is political bait and switch.

Second, when the business of democracy is conducted like this, citizens lose respect for both the government officials involved and the system itself. Instead of openness and transparency in government, we have citizens and, apparently, even elected officials shut out of the process.

Third, important questions arise: Why was the addition of the parking plan not made public until the eleventh hour? Was this done intentionally, so that opponents would not have time to prepare, or to even make arrangements to attend the meeting? Or was it simple incompetence and lack of care?

The officials involved — council members Jeff Longwell and Lavonta Williams, who negotiated the addition of the parking with county commissioners; Allen Bell, who is Wichita’s director of urban development; and Mayor Carl Brewer — need to answer to the citizens of Wichita as to why this important business was conducted in this haphazard manner that disrespects citizen involvement.

Additional coverage:
Wichita TIF Districts Mean Central Government Planning
Downtown Wichita Arena TIF District Testimony
Jim Skelton is Frustrated
Downtown Wichita Arena TIF District Still a Bad Idea
Wichita Mayor and City Council Prefer to Work Out of Media Spotlight
Wichita’s Naysayers Are Saying Yes to Liberty
Tiff over Wichita TIFs
Downtown Wichita Arena TIF District
Do Wichita TIF Districts Create Value?
Wichita City Council’s Misunderstanding of Tax Increment Financing
Tax Increment Financing in Wichita Benefits Few
Tax Increment Financing in Iowa

Wichita Smoking Ban Starts. Sharon Fearey is Excited.

Today, September 4, 2008, marks the first day of the ban on smoking in Wichita. It’s not quite a total ban, and that has some smoking ban supporters upset. In a letter to the Wichita Eagle, anti-smoking activist Cindy Claycomb writes “If you are a supporter of clean indoor air, please do not spend your money in businesses that allow smoking indoors, including smoking rooms. If we continue to spend our money at places that allow smoking indoors, that tells the business owners that we do not care — that we will tolerate secondhand smoke even though we all know the harmful effects.”

Not everyone is upset, though. In the Wichita Eagle article Smoking ban takes effect; for smokers, end of an era, Wichita city council member Sharon Fearey is quoted as “I feel this is an exciting time for the city.” If, like council member Fearey, you appreciate increasing government and bureaucratic management of the lives of Wichitans, you might be excited, too. Those who value liberty and freedom, however, are saddened — even if they aren’t smokers.

Fortunately Ms. Fearey is precluded from running again for her seat on the city council by term limits. The two architects of this smoking ban — Lavonta Williams and Jeff Longwell — can run for election again. The position held by Ms. Williams is up for grabs in the March 2009 primary. Hopefully the citizens of Wichita city council district one will elect someone respectful of property rights, not to mention personal rights.

For more coverage of the smoking issue and why it’s important, these articles will be of interest: It’s Not the Same as Pee In the Swimming Pool, Haze Surrounds Wichita Smoking Ban, Property Rights Should Control Kansas Smoking Decisions, Let Property Rights Rule Wichita Smoking Decisions, Testimony Opposing Kansas Smoking Ban, and No More Smoking Laws, Please.

Do Wichita TIF Districts Create Value?

A recent Wichita Eagle article City tax districts aren’t breaking even reports on some of the problems with tax increment financing, or TIF, districts in Wichita:

One promise of TIFs was that revitalizing certain areas — such as Old Town and the East Bank — would boost property values throughout downtown.

In the past four years, assessed valuation has risen 14.9 percent a year within the downtown TIF areas where millions of dollars of public money have been invested.

But take away those TIF districts and valuations have grown at 4.1 percent a year for the rest of the downtown area. Countywide, commercial property values have gone up about 10.7 percent a year.

One question I have, and one that might be difficult to answer, is if property values in TIF districts are being assessed accurately and fairly. For assessed valuations in TIF districts to grow at only 1.4 times the rate as all commercial property seems to indicate that perhaps TIF district property is undervalued by the assessor. After all, it is in TIF districts that we expect to see rapid growth — “exponential,” as Wichita city council member Jeff Longwell explained to me — in value as developers renovate old buildings or build new buildings.

The primary problem, however, is that these TIF districts represent the city government’s desire for more development in places or things that people don’t value it as much as they do in other places. It is government central planning, led by politicians and bureaucrats, making decisions rather than people expressing their preferences through voluntary transactions in a free market.

Since politicians and bureaucrats have different goals than entrepreneurs, it is not surprising that TIF districts may not live up to the expectations of the public. Of course, it depends on your expectations. If you desire simply to get something built — this would be the politicians’ goal — then TIF districts work. Buildings, indeed, are built.

If, on the other hand, your goal is to create wealth by building something that the public values enough that you can earn a profit — this being the goal of entrepreneurs — government central planning simply doesn’t work.

Kansas Blog Roundup for July 3, 2008

Even with a holiday-shortened week, there was quite a bit of activity in Kansas blogs.

At the Kansas Republican Assembly blog, the post Sebelius: Slattery needs help raises questions about U.S. Senate candidate Jim Slattery’s acquisition of certain email addresses, and the etiquette of using them. In Democratic delegate shunned for endorsing McCain over Obama, the anonymous writer of this blog wonders whether the Democratic Party is really the big tent party.

The Kansas Trunkline reports that U.S. House of Representatives candidate Nancy Boyda is not shy with her support for increasing motor fuel taxes in Nancy Boyda: Yes, new taxes! Also, reporting on Kansas Republican Party chairman Kris Kobach and his remarks in Slattery fundraising wilting, DSCC bailing.

This week, the Kansas Meadowlark has posts on judicial nominating commissions in Kansas. First, can campaign contributions of $13,000 to Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius and covering some airplane expenses purchase a seat on the Kansas Supreme Court Nominating Commission? The post Did $13,000 given to Gov. Sebelius play part in Supreme Court Nominating Commission appointment? answers. Second, the title of the post Political makeup of Third District Court Nominating Commission doesn’t reflect district? asks the question that needs answers. This district is Shawnee County, where Topeka is located.

The Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission seems to fall short of fulfilling its duties in these two posts: Kansas Ethics Commission can’t find political activist, who didn’t file PAC report, but newspapers can? and Kansas Ethics Commission ignores missing $25,000 payment by PAC?

The anonymous blogger Stay Red Kansas supplies in Talk around T-Town some political gossip obtained from some “power players.” It’s hard to know how much weight to give to posts like this from an anonymous blogger. Is the information real, or just the sowing of the seeds of rumor? Unless we know who the blogger is, or unless you read the blog enough to form an opinion as to the writer’s reliability, it’s hard to treat these posts seriously.

In the post Is Congress shilling their constituents?, The Patriots (news from citizen advocates) blogger Allen Williams wonders about U.S. Energy policy.

Kansas Federalist blogger Currie Myers comments on the difference between Iowa Floods versus New Orleans Floods.

At the Joyful Cynic, the very fine post Charity at a Distance explains the difference between charity and “legally mandated charity,” although I believe Sharon is too mild in describing government activity as anything resembling charity.

Just when I think I’ve become aware of all blogs with a Kansas connection, I find out that I’ve been missing out on a very good blog. The Blog About All Things MBM (market-based management) is a blog that I’m sorry I’ve overlooked. One of its contributors is a Kansan, and market-based management was developed by Wichitan Charles Koch. The post Did Adam Smith Hate Businesspeople? contains the sentence “MBM considers any form of political profit completely unacceptable.” When you read my Voice For Liberty in Wichita post Wichita and the Old Town Warren Theater Loan, you’ll realize why I am glad I found this blog.

At The Quite Conservative, the post When the Republic Hung by a Thread comments on the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision and the right to bear arms.

At In Media Res the interesting post Ten Things I Like About Canada (In Honor of Canada Day) contains this good thing about Canada: “Relative avoidance of sugar processed from high fructose corn syrup.” Why in the U.S. do we use corn syrup instead of sugar? Do government tariffs have anything to do with it? If you don’t like the government meddling with the way we sweeten soft drinks, how will you like another “good thing” in Canada, which is number four in this list: socialized medicine.

At the Voice For Liberty in Wichita, Karl Peterjohn of the Kansas Taxpayers Network contributed the article Socialism And Big Government Expand In Kansas.

In Wichita, big news this week was the Wichita City Council’s giveaway to a theater owner. My remarks to the council are in the post Wichita and the Old Town Warren Theater Loan. John Todd testified too; his remarks are here: Wichita Old Town Warren Theater Public Hearing Remarks. Some follow-up analysis is here: In Wichita, is Economic Development Proven Public Policy?, and you may read of Wichita city council member Jeff Longwell’s unfortunately low opinion of Wichitan’s interest in these civic matters in the post Wichita Council Member Jeff Longwell: We Can, and Do, Read.

Some Wichita news media outlets revealed some sloppy reporting and bias in these posts: Wichita Business Journal: Where is the Increasing Enrollment in Wichita Schools?, Wichita Business Journal: Please Explain the Wichita School Bond Impact, and Wichita Eagle Reporting Bias.

Some coverage of a candidate forum is here: Kansas School Board Candidate Forum, June 30, 2008.

How is former Wichita public school superintendent Winston Brooks doing at his new post in Albuquerque? Someone there doesn’t have too high of an opinion: In Albuquerque, Someone Already Doesn’t Like Winston Brooks.

An important series of posts at the Voice For Liberty in Wichita deal with the involvement of Earthjustice, a radical environmentalist group, in Kansas energy policy. This, to my knowledge, has not been covered by Kansas news media util very recently. The post Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius at Earthjustice reports on the governor’s recent talk an at Earthjustice event. Earthjustice in Kansas: What is Their Agenda? contains a fellow blogger’s interpretation of the motives of Earthjustice. In Earthjustice in Kansas: The Press Release I report on how I have made a records request to the governor’s office so that Kansans can learn more about the activities of this extremist group and its relationship to our governor.

Wichita Council Member Jeff Longwell: We Can, and Do, Read

Wichita City Council Member Jeff Longwell, in the news article Little time to review Warren loan terms (July 1, 2008 Wichita Eagle), was reported as remarking “It’s unlikely many residents would read the full contract even if it had been made public earlier.”

Mr. Longwell, many people in Wichita do read documents such as these. I think a better question is whether city council members read and understand these documents. This is from before Mr. Longwell’s time on the council, but in the article The Real Scandal at City Hall, I report how city council members are sometimes not aware of even the most basic facts about city affairs:

… council members were described as being surprised upon learning that the industrial revenue bonds and property tax abatement awarded to a local business also included a sales tax break. How could they be surprised? The City of Wichita website contains a nicely-done page titled “Industrial Revenue Bonds” (located at http://www.wichitagov.org/Business/EconomicDevelopment/IRB) (This is the first result that appears when you use the wildly popular Google search engine and search for “Wichita IRB.”) The first link on this page is titled “IRB Overview: Industrial Revenue Bond Issuance in the State of Kansas,” and you don’t have to read very far before you come to the sentence reading “Generally, property and services acquired with the proceeds of IRBs are eligible for sales tax exemption.”

(The city’s website has been rearranged a little since then. The new location for this page is http://www.wichita.gov/CityOffices/CityManager/Urban/EconomicDevelopment/IRB/.)

Besides being wrong on whether people read documents like these, I think Mr. Longwell’s statement reveals an unfortunate attitude towards the people of Wichita. I don’t think he always felt this way, as earlier this year it was reported he “strongly believes in transparency in government.” (Rule seeks to stop leaks after private city council meetings)

Mr. Longwell is correct in that the Old Town Warren Theater loan documents should have been released to the city council and the public earlier. Mr. Longwell could have shown us evidence of his belief in transparency by moving to delay yesterday’s council action until these documents could be read, digested, and debated.

Warren Old Town Wichita Theater: Good Money After Bad?

This letter is from my friend Darrell Leffew. Not everyone seems to understand the folly of throwing good money after bad. “Taxpayers are already on the hook” is Wichita city council member Jeff Longwell’s opinion as expressed in a Wichita Eagle article. Mr. Longwell, I realize you weren’t a member of the council when we taxpayers were placed on the hook, but don’t help us on another, please.

Let us not throw more good money after bad. The Wichita City Council has approved a business loan to the Limited Liability Company that owns the Old Town Warren Theater.

That same company was quoted in an Eagle article earlier this month as saying the remodel paid for by the loan would cut the losses. No mention of ending the losses, just reducing. What are the exact estimates? Taxpayers should be fully informed.

An Eagle article of November 2004 talked about revenues related to the TIF, which funded Old Town development, being woefully short. How many millions of taxpayer dollars are already at risk? And if the business goes into foreclosure before the loan is repaid, we the taxpayers have first claim on a failed, debt ridden property.  Our interim City Manager advised against the loan.

Our elected officials are not just offering commercial banking now but BAD commercial banking. And the “Open for Business” sign is bright neon.

Has our City Council overstepped its authority? Voters will decide at the polls.