Tag Archives: Jim Howell

Sedgwick County Manager epitomizes duty, honor, country

Statement to Sedgwick County Commission
By Karl Peterjohn

As a Sedgwick County citizen and taxpayer, I have been distressed to see news reports about the scandals, FBI and other legal investigations, that involve this county commission. The details of this appalling topic shall remain for another day.

Today, I am here to praise four county employees who deserve public commendation.

On May 12, 1962, five star General-of-the-army, Douglas MacArthur, an army officer during World War I, World War II, and the Korean War, gave his famous speech to the army cadets at the West Point military academy. MacArthur, then in the twilight of his life, used the hallowed phrase, “duty, honor, country,” the motto of West Point, in speaking of the obligations that exist for army leaders; past, present, and future.

I believe that, “Duty, honor, country,” should not be limited to only our military leaders. General MacArthur said, “… teach you … not to seek the path of comfort, but to face the stress and spur of difficulty and challenge; to learn to stand up in the storm,” and MacArthur goes on to say, “… that the very obsession of public service must be duty, honor, country.”

General Michael Scholes epitomizes “duty, honor, country.” I repeatedly saw this demonstrated during the years that I had the privilege of working with him while serving on this commission, as well as more recently as he continues to demonstrate his personal integrity.

While Judge Yost enjoys the same amount of military experience that I possess, and that is none, his distinguished public work, whether it was at the White House over 40 years ago, over a decade of service in both houses of the Kansas legislature including serving as a leader in the Kansas senate, and almost 20 years on the district court bench personifies, “duty, honor, country.”

General Scholes and Judge Yost are distinguished men of achievement, who possess the diligence, competence, and most importantly, integrity, that I stand to recognize this morning.

Last week this commission voted 3-2 in another direction. I rise today to thank both commissioners, Jim Howell and Richard Ranzau for voting against the motion to place Judge Yost on leave.

I also want to praise commissioners Howell and Ranzau for their efforts to provide transparency in this county, as well as protecting taxpayers while providing efficient public services. Howell and Ranzau are pillars of integrity during these county commission scandals. This needs recognition, and I proudly provide as much as this citizen can do.

These are four men — General Scholes, Judge Yost, Commissioner Howell, and Commissioner Ranzau — are personifying MacArthur’s hallowed words of, “duty, honor, country.”

As a former Sedgwick County commissioner, I would conclude by recommending that this county commission now proceed to move to receive and file this commendation.

For video of Peterjohn delivering these remarks at the Sedgwick County Commission meeting on November 14, 2018, click here.

Déjà vu scandals in Sedgwick County government

The Sedgwick County Commission scandals are an outrage for me. I must speak out against the appalling revelations that provide explicit evidence of illegal misconduct in our county government, writes Karl Peterjohn.

Déjà vu scandals in Sedgwick County government

By Karl Peterjohn

During the Watergate scandal the press repeatedly stated that the campaign break-in was not the primary crime, but the cover up involving the White House was. These scandals eventually led to criminal convictions, and ultimately, to the resignation of the president.

Sedgwick County government now appears to have multi-part scandals. It is not clear whether these scandals will result in convictions and resignations, but these scandals are growing.

The November 2, 2018 news conference held by the attorney for county counselor Eric Yost revealed that the FBI investigation that initially began with Commissioner O’Donnell has now grown to involve two other commissioners, David Unruh and David Dennis. Commissioner O’Donnell has been indicted on a number of felony charges, and is now awaiting a January 2019 trial in federal court. He has refused to resign from the commission.

Mr. Yost revealed at his news conference that in the wake of the initial O’Donnell scandal, an effort was being made by these three commissioners, O’Donnell, Unruh, and Dennis, to remove county manager Scholes from his position. Scholes’ mistake was cooperating with the FBI in the initial criminal investigation of Commissioner O’Donnell.

Mr. Yost’s problem with the three commissioners seems to have been pointing out the improper conduct by these three commissioners concerning Mr. Scholes, and in doing so, trying to protect Sedgwick County from this improper and illegal conduct. In doing so, Yost was trying to prevent the county from being exposed to legal liabilities for this outrageous misconduct occurring in the on-going effort to fire county manager Scholes. This misconduct is the latest scandalous revelation. This misconduct could lead to further criminal charges against these three members of the county commission.

The FBI refuses to respond to press inquiries of what or who they are investigating. However, we now know that the FBI is investigating commissioners at the Sedgwick County courthouse. Mr. Yost revealed Friday that he spent a total of 3.5 hours being interviewed by FBI agents on two occasions. The FBI has also interviewed other county employees.

It is also clear that the other two members of the county commission, Richard Ranzau and Jim Howell, were not participants in the commission majority’s egregious misconduct. Sadly, election mailers and campaign material from their political opponents, or their political allies, are claiming that is not the case. Both Ranzau and Howell have behaved in an exemplary way concerning this situation and deserve public praise, not the misinformation that occurs all too often in today’s political environment.

Ranzau has been especially outspoken in condemning his three colleagues who have created this ongoing scandal that will stretch well beyond election day. While information from Yost’s news conference was a front-page story in the November 3 Wichita Eagle, it is not clear that the local news media’s coverage will focus here for very long. Courthouse scandals usually have the potential to impact an election, but not in this case. Commissioner Unruh is retiring, and Dennis and O’Donnell aren’t on the 2018 election ballot.

Much of this information would not have become public if it hadn’t been for Commissioner Dennis’ public comments criticizing Mr. Yost. Commissioner Dennis’ criticism of Mr. Yost created a way to reveal a lot more information about this part of the commission majority’s scandal. However, a great deal more information remains to be revealed. I believe that more criminal charges are likely.

Where does this county scandal stand right now?

Commissioner Unruh will be leaving office in early January, but the ethical and legal cloud over his head will remain. His county commission record will be deeply tarnished regardless of how long it takes to resolve these scandals. Unruh has already been exposed as petty, vindictive, and guilty of scandalous misconduct.

Commissioner Dennis made a huge blunder in publicly criticizing the county commission’s chief lawyer. It is now clear that Mr. Yost, a former district court judge as well as elected official, has a law degree and Commissioner Dennis doesn’t. By criticizing Yost, Dennis unintentionally provided the legal means for revealing a portion of the FBI investigation of these three commissioners, details of the misconduct allegations, and revealing important county information that had not been on the public record. Commissioner Dennis has expanded these scandals with his bluster from the commission bench.

Both Unruh and Dennis could eventually end up following Commissioner O’Donnell into federal court as defendants. Commissioner O’Donnell remains at the center of this scandal with his pending criminal charges. I hope that the wheels of justice move quickly. I believe that it is possible, with the new information revealed last week, that Commissioner O’Donnell may face additional charges that expand his already sizable federal indictments.

This situation is bad for Sedgwick County and our community. These scandals could eventually generate other investigations, possibly by the Kansas attorney general.

In 2016, candidate David Dennis was successful in defeating me in the hard-fought primary election battle for the third district GOP county commission nomination. Mr. Dennis won the general election. He became a county commissioner in January 2017. This year, Commissioner Dennis was elected by his commission colleagues to chair the commission.

I know all five commissioners in varying ways as well as the county staff who served with me during the eight years, from 2009 to 2017, that I was a county commissioner. It was an honor and privilege to serve on the county commission. Mr. Scholes and Mr. Yost are two of the best public servants I had the privilege to work with while I was on the commission. Their ethics and integrity are exemplary.

These scandals are an outrage for me. I must speak out against the appalling revelations that provide explicit evidence of illegal misconduct in our county government.

From Pachyderm: Sedgwick County Commission candidates

From the Wichita Pachyderm Club: Republican Candidates for Sedgwick County Commission. Appearing, in order of their initial appearance, were:

  • Richard Ranzau, District 4.
  • Pete Meitzner, District 1.
  • Jim Howell, District 5.

This was recorded September 7, 2018.

Shownotes

Is the pursuit of intergovernmental grants wise?

Is the pursuit of intergovernmental grants wise? Would local governments fund certain programs if the money was not seen as “free?”

An eariler version of this article failed to distinguish Jim Howell’s position from the majority of candidates. I regret the error.

At a forum of candidates for Sedgwick County Commission, the subject of intergovernmental grants was discussed. All candidates except for current commissioners Richard Ranzau and Jim Howell were fully in favor — enthusiastic, even — of the grant system. Both Ranzau and Howell expressed skepticism of the wisdom and efficacy of the grant system.

Other candidates participating in the forum had several justifications for accepting intergovernmental grants: It’s our tax money we sent to Washington or Topeka, it’s foolish not to try to get back our tax money, the grants are already funded, the money will simply go somewhere else. There are a few problems with these lines of reasoning.

First, the grants are not “already paid for.” Since the federal government runs a deficit, we’re not paying the entire cost of government. To say that some things (program A, B, and C) are paid for, and other things (programs D, E, and F) are not paid for, is making artificial distinctions that can’t be justified.

But deficit spending (on grants or other things) makes sense to politicians who want to deliver more government services than are being paid for by current levels of taxation. Federal and state grants make sense to local politicians and bureaucrats who want to be able to say they “won” federal or state dollars, so that the county or city can spend at no one’s cost. That’s how grant money is often characterized: Spending at no one’s cost.

But politicians and bureaucrats across the nation make the same argument. We all wind up spending money at no one’s cost, so they say.

Then: We must “try to get back our tax money.” This highlights another absurdity of government grants. We pay taxes, and then hope that we win the competition to get back our money. Who developed this system? Again, politicians like to boast they “won” grant funding that has no cost. Bureaucrats thrive on the jobs and power that grants provide, both locally and at the state and federal levels. Someone has to collect the taxes, write the applications for grants, evaluate the applications, administer the grant money at the state or federal level, administer the grant money at the local level, write reports on how the grant money is spent, and then someone has to read the reports. This creates a lot of jobs for bureaucrats. It also costs a lot, which is a deadweight cost, that is, costs that provide no benefit.

(If politicians and bureaucrats in other states, cities, and counties are smarter than us, do we have a fair chance of getting our tax money back in the form of grants?)

Finally: There is evidence that intergovernmental grants accepted today result in higher taxes tomorrow. Worse, this is for spending that local governments might not choose if local government bore the entire cost. But after the grant ends and after a constituency is created, it’s difficult to stop the spending.

Following, from 2013, a presentation of research on grants and future taxation.

Federal grants seen to increase future local spending

“Nothing is so permanent as a temporary government program.” — Nobel Laureate Milton Friedman

Is this true? Do federal grants cause state and/or local tax increases in the future after the government grant ends? Economists Russell S. Sobel and George R. Crowley have examined the evidence, and they find the answer is yes.

The research paper is titled Do Intergovernmental Grants Create Ratchets in State and Local Taxes? Testing the Friedman-Sanford Hypothesis.

The difference between this research and most other is that Sobel and Crowley look at the impact of federal grants on state and local tax policy in future periods.

This is important because, in their words, “Federal grants often result in states creating new programs and hiring new employees, and when the federal funding for that specific purpose is discontinued, these new state programs must either be discontinued or financed through increases in state own source taxes.”

The authors caution: “Far from always being an unintended consequence, some federal grants are made with the intention that states will pick up funding the program in the future.”

The conclusion to their research paper states:

Our results clearly demonstrate that grant funding to state and local governments results in higher own source revenue and taxes in the future to support the programs initiated with the federal grant monies. Our results are consistent with Friedman’s quote regarding the permanence of temporary government programs started through grant funding, as well as South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford’s reasoning for trying to deny some federal stimulus monies for his state due to the future tax implications. Most importantly, our results suggest that the recent large increase in federal grants to state and local governments that has occurred as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) will have significant future tax implications at the state and local level as these governments raise revenue to continue these newly funded programs into the future. Federal grants to state and local governments have risen from $461 billion in 2008 to $654 billion in 2010. Based on our estimates, future state taxes will rise by between 33 and 42 cents for every dollar in federal grants states received today, while local revenues will rise by between 23 and 46 cents for every dollar in federal (or state) grants received today. Using our estimates, this increase of $200 billion in federal grants will eventually result in roughly $80 billion in future state and local tax and own source revenue increases. This suggests the true cost of fiscal stimulus is underestimated when the costs of future state and local tax increases are overlooked.

So: Not only are we taxed to pay for the cost of funding federal and state grants, the units of government that receive grants are very likely to raise their own levels of taxation in response to the receipt of the grants. This is a cycle of ever-expanding government that needs to end, and right now.

An introduction to the paper is Do Intergovernmental Grants Create Ratchets in State and Local Taxes?.

For Sedgwick County Commission, too much debate

By moving to end motions and debate, the Sedgwick County Commission isn’t effectively serving citizens and taxpayers.

Yesterday’s meeting of the Sedgwick County Commission offered an opportunity to learn how we can improve local government.

The issue the commission was considering, significant in its own right, is not important to the following discussion. It’s the process that needs improvement.

There was a proposed ordinance. Commissioner Jim Howell offered two amendments — really substitute motions — that altered the proposed ordinance. Each failed by votes of three to two.

Howell had two more motions to offer. But Commissioner David Dennis moved a motion to end the offering of additional motions. In this vote the majority prevailed, and Howell was silenced. Commissioners voting to end debate were Chair Dave Unruh, Michael O’Donnell, and Dennis. Richard Ranzau and Howell opposed the motion to end debate.

The county commission is not a deliberative body like a legislature. The county does not have committees like a legislature. I’m not advocating for the county to form committees, but here’s what is missing from the county process: There is no opportunity for interested parties — often lobbyists, but also regular people — to testify before a committee as legislation is being developed. There is no committee mark-up process in which the text of a bill is crafted and finalized. There is no committee vote that decides whether to recommend the bill to the entire legislative body.

Some of this happens in Sedgwick County, of course, but mostly behind the scenes. There is the county staff meeting Tuesday morning, when the commissioners meet with staff in an informal setting. While this meeting is open to the public, there is rarely news coverage. (Hint to county staff: These meetings could easily be broadcast and archived on the internet without much cost or effort.)

In a legislature, when a bill is considered by the entire body, there is usually an amendment process. They may be many amendments that require time to debate and consider. This process was mentioned by two commission members who have served in the Kansas legislature.

But it seems a majority of Sedgwick County Commission members don’t care for this process.

I understand why some commissioners wanted to end debate. Sometimes amendments to legislation create a moment where legislators have to cast a vote on an issue, often a finely-grained issue. Sometimes that vote is used as a campaign issue in future elections. Those votes may appear in compilations of legislative activity that reveal how legislators vote.

But amendments and debate are part of the legislative process. Commissioner Howell had several amendments that he had prepared in advance. They were not off-the-cuff, spur-of-the-moment ideas. They were crafted to attempt to find a compromise that a majority of commissioners could accept.

But a majority of Sedgwick County Commission members didn’t want that.

Perhaps some commissioners where concerned about the meeting becoming lengthy. We see that from Wichita City Council members. They’re paid a part-time salary, so maybe there’s merit to their carping about long meetings.

But Howell’s amendments took just a few minutes each to consider. And — this is highly relevant — the members of the Sedgwick County Commission are paid a handsome full-time salary. They should not object to the meeting lasting all day, if that’s what it takes to serve the citizens. And citizens were not well-served by the commission’s decision to silence one of its members.