Tag Archives: Kelly Parks

Sedgwick County commissioners vote Democratic

This morning the Sedgwick County Commission voted to select member Tim Norton of Haysville as chairman for the upcoming year. Norton, a Democrat, received the votes of two of the board’s four Republican members: Those of outgoing Chairman Dave Unruh and Jim Skelton.

Commissioner Karl Peterjohn nominated Richard Ranzau for the position, but he received only two votes.

It may be remarkable that a board with a four to one majority in one party elected a member of the minority party to serve as chair, or it may simply be a reflection of the actual ideological makeup of the board. Peterjohn and Ranzau consistently take stances and make votes that favor limited government and free markets, while Unruh and Skelton generally join with the politically-liberal Norton on most issues. The chairman is more than just a ceremonial position, as the chairman presides over commission meetings. On many agenda items, the commission is not obligated to hear testimony from citizens, although it must when there are items that have public hearings required by law. It was the practice of Kelly Parks and Peterjohn, when they served as chair, to allow anyone who appeared at meetings to speak. In his term as chair, Unruh was seen as less accommodating, although I think that anyone who really cared to was allowed to speak, sometimes with a gentle admonition to hurry along. It is unknown in what manner Norton will run the meetings while he is chair. A hint: He’s objected to the term “ObamaCare” as pejorative, so I wouldn’t use that word around the courthouse.

For Chairman Pro Tem, the commissioners selected Skelton. Ranzau’s name was placed into nomination by Peterjohn, and he received the same two votes as he did for chairman. The votes for Skelton by Norton and Unruh are surprising. Skelton’s recent behavior has been erratic, even bizarre at times. His recent appearance at the Wichita City Council (video here) brought laughter and guffaws from both the bench and the public. I got the sense, however, the people were laughing at Skelton, not with him.

Unruh’s selection for 2011 Chairman’s award

Chairman Unruh selected Visioneering Wichita as the recipient of the annual Chairman’s award. This organization is in favor of government intervention into the economy — and people’s lives — on a large and increasing scale. Most of the items on its legislative agenda involve more government spending. While Visioneering — its chair Jon Rolph, anyway — denies advocating for increased taxes, Milton Friedman has taught us that it is the level of spending that is the true measure of the size of government. The size of that Visioneering seeks to expand.

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Monday January 3, 2011

This week at Wichita City Council. Roger Smith will be sworn in to take the place of Jim Skelton. Smith’s term will end in April, when the voters will select a permanent member of the council from district 3. Of course, Smith could be that person. … The council will hear from an independent fact-finder regarding the firefighters. See Wichita Eagle Wichita firefighters union stresses staffing in contract requests with city. … Also improvement of two south Wichita intersections will be considered. See Wichita City Council to consider $4 million in street work on S. Broadway.

Last meeting for two commissioners. This Wednesday will be the last meeting for two members of the Sedgwick County Commission, Gwen Welshimer and Kelly Parks. New members will be sworn on this Sunday.

Legislators to hear from citizens. The South-Central Kansas Legislative Delegation will be taking public comments Tuesday January fourth from 7:00 pm to 8:30 pm in the Jury Room of the Sedgwick County Courthouse, 525 N. Main in Wichita. (Use the north entrance to the courthouse). This is your opportunity to let local legislators know your wishes on issues that will be considered during the 2011 legislative session. In the past, each person wishing to talk has been limited to between three and five minutes depending on the number of people wishing to speak.

State GOP chief to speak in Wichita. This Friday (January 7th) Amanda Adkins, who is Chair of the Kansas Republican Party, will speak at the Wichita Pachyderm Club. The topic is “Conservative Leadership Now — 2020: Building Long-term Political Infrastructure for the State of Kansas.” The public is welcome and encouraged to attend Wichita Pachyderm meetings. For more information click on Wichita Pachyderm Club. Upcoming speakers include Bob Lamke, Director of the Sedgwick County Division of Public Safety on January 14th, and Ed Flentje, Professor at the Hugo Wall School of Urban and Public Affairs at Wichita State University, will be discussing a book he co-authored titled “Kansas Politics and Government” on January 21.

Repeal of sales tax. Many of the new members of the Kansas House of Representatives ran on opposition to the statewide sales tax increase that took effect in July. I had speculated in an appearance on This Week in Kansas that the House would entertain a bill to repeal the sales tax, while another — more experienced, I might add — observer of Kansas politics felt that leadership would tamp down such an effort. Today David Klepper of The Kansas City Star takes a look at the prospects for legislative action on this issue. Some would like to repeal the sales tax right away, while others say that repeal needs to be part of a broader, long-term look at Kansas tax policy. Senate Vice President John Vratil — not a supporter of limited government and economic freedom — is quoted as saying tax reform is a “multi-year project.”

Net neutrality advances. Almost lost in all the congressional activity before Christmas was the fact that the Federal Communications Commission voted to pass new rules on net neutrality. Writing in The Wall Street Journal, John Fund says: “The Federal Communications Commission’s new ‘net neutrality’ rules, passed on a partisan 3-2 vote yesterday, represent a huge win for a slick lobbying campaign run by liberal activist groups and foundations. The losers are likely to be consumers who will see innovation and investment chilled by regulations that treat the Internet like a public utility.” Fund explains the radical political views of those behind the net neutrality campaign. He also explains that President Barack Obama is ignoring the will of Congress and court rulings, seeking to impose internet regulation through the executive branch.

Wichita noticed in Boston. A writer from the Boston Globe visits Wichita and writes on his tourist experiences. It follows a predictable template: First, put away the Toto jokes and overlook the city’s problematic reputation. Then — I found public art, lattes, and a restaurant! Wow! Who would have figured?

Sedgwick County Commissioner disputes Wichita Eagle headline on audit

This week controversy arose surrounding a request by two Sedgwick County Commissioners for more information from the county’s auditor, Allen, Gibbs & Houlik, L.C., a public accounting firm.

The financial issue concerns the way that EMS employee pay is budgeted and its impact on the county’s budget. Commission chair Karl Peterjohn and Commissioner Kelly Parks asked questions of the county’s auditor on this matter, exercising what Peterjohn describes as due diligence. But the issue has grown to become political.

In a Wichita Eagle news story, the county’s chief financial officer said he expected to receive a bill from the auditor for about $900 as a result of what the Eagle characterized as an audit. As this was initiated without a vote by the entire commission, some members are “irked,” according to the news article.

Peterjohn says that the questions he asked are “within the normal scope of the contract between Sedgwick County and AGH” and that there should be no charge for answering these questions. He also notes that the auditing firm works for the commissioners specifically.

There is disagreement as to the scope of the financial irregularity. In an email message, Peterjohn said that “[Commissioner Dave Unruh] does not believe that there is a financial problem here. I strongly disagree. The county will republish its budget because of this problem.”

Following is a letter Peterjohn wrote to the editor of the Wichita Eagle.

I am writing to demand a retraction from the Wichita Eagle’s July 14, 2010 headline, “Parks, Peterjohn order audit without vote.”

We did not order an audit and the article that Ms. Gruver wrote does not state that we did. We did discuss a $300,000 discrepancy that county staff had found in the EMS Department with the county’s outside auditor Mark Dick. Mr. Dick is operating under an existing contract that his accounting firm, Allen Gibbs & Houlik (AGH) has with Sedgwick County. This sizable financial discrepancy extended back to 2007.

The current contract that the county has with AGH goes back to 2008. AGH’s accounting work with the county goes back decades and well before 2007. The current contract requires AGH to perform outside auditing of the county’s books and related financial services. This specifically includes: “…require AGH plan and perform the audit to obtain reasonable, rather than absolute assurance about whether the financial statements are free of material misstatement whether caused by error, fraudulent financial reporting or misappropriation of assets.”

The unexpected and negative financial revelation about this $300,000 discrepancy led me to want to know if AGH would be changing their letter concerning the county’s financial reporting for last year or any previous years going back to 2007. I was also concerned that problems in one county department might extend to other departments as well as revising any of the previous audit letters issued by AGH in the past. This is especially necessary since we are beginning to work on our 2011 budget and my questions to Mr. Dick reflected these concerns on this subject.

This is the appropriate and proper form of due diligence that is needed to be asked by any elected official who has the responsibility for the expenditure of taxpayers’ funds. My inquiry as well as Commissioner Parks may have led AGH to take action under the terms of this contract relating to county finances and record keeping.

I asked questions. So did Commissioner Parks. Commissioners ask questions all the time without having to meet and cast votes. In the 18 months that I have been a commissioner, Mr. Dick and AGH have presented the results of their annual audit to the commission. At that time Mr. Dick has said that the auditors work for the commissioners and are ready to answer any financial and audit related questions we have under this contract.

If there are financial discrepancies in a county department, this needs to be identified and corrected. A lack of proper and appropriate financial controls can impact the county’s bond rating and I believe that by asking my questions, along with Commissioner Parks’, for Mr. Dick were appropriate and were the due diligence that needed to be performed.

Mr. Dick responded to our inquiry since he was not aware of this $300,000 discrepancy until we told him. Mr. Dick looked into this matter under the terms of the AGH-Sedgwick County contract. Mr. Dick then issued a letter to all of the commissioners informing us of what he had found. Commissioner Unruh then expressed his opinion about this inquiry at the commissioner staff meeting last Tuesday.

If county records are flawed, there are provisions to cover this within the contract. These provisions include, “… establishing and maintaining effective internal control over financial reporting and safeguarding assets, and for informing us of all significant deficiencies in the design or operation of such controls of which it has knowledge,” is a county responsibility. In addition the county is also responsible for, “… for adjusting the financial statements to correct material misstatements,” and “… properly recording transactions in the records.”

My intent in asking questions is to make sure that taxpayers’ funds are being spent appropriately and proper records are being kept. Let me add that in many cases in this country public officials, both appointed and elected, have lost their jobs for financial discrepancies a good deal smaller than $300,000 or improper financial variances that are a lot less than 4 years in length. This variance will require the county to re-publish its budget.

I believed that the questions I asked were within the normal scope of the contract between Sedgwick County and AGH. The headline that Commissioner Parks and myself ordered an audit outside the boundaries of this contract without a required vote is odious and false.

Peterjohn presses taxpayer protection platform through Sedgwick County Commission

At today’s meeting of the Sedgwick County Commission, commissioners revised the county’s 2010 legislative platform, adding important and groundbreaking taxpayer protection to the platform. The split vote lets voters know without a doubt where commissioners stand on taxpayer protection issues.

The legislative platform is Sedgwick County’s “wish list” for the legislature. The items in the platform are not laws, but instead indicate the desires of the county commission.

Commissioner Karl Peterjohn proposed new language to add to the legislative platform: “All local sales tax increases must be approved by voters under Kansas law. All property tax increases that raise the mill levy should also be required to receive voter approval.”

Kansas has no such provision, and this is a defect, Peterjohn said. Kansas is one of the few states that have property taxes at the city, county, school district, and state levels. Most states did away with state-wide property taxes in the 1930s, he said, but Kansas did not.

Peterjohn made a motion that this language be included in the legislative platform, and Chairman Kelly Parks seconded.

Peterjohn noted that three of the four states surrounding Kansas have such limitations.

Commissioner Tim Norton asked a question that revealed that cities have more authority than counties to raise sales tax. He said this is an issue of equity, of rebalancing the ways that counties can fund their government. “Counties don’t have the ability to have more tools in their toolbox other than just property tax. … We’re very restricted.” He added that he doesn’t like the idea of artificial ceilings being placed on the county.

Commissioner Dave Unruh agreed with Norton, saying local officials are elected to carry out the responsibility of making responsible budget decisions. A limitation from the state makes no sense, he said.

Norton made the point that the state can place a lid on the ability of counties to raise funds through taxation, and may still place mandates on what counties must do. This compresses the decisions that the commission gets to make, and goes against representative government.

Peterjohn’s motion passed three to two, with Commissioner Gwen Welshimer and Parks joining Peterjohn in the majority, with Unruh and Norton in the minority.

After the meeting, Peterjohn said this platform language represents a major change in the county’s position, a reversal of the county’s historic position on property tax policy. This action is also at odds with the Kansas Association of Counties. It’s a major change, he said.

“Traditionally the local government lobby has been in lockstep opposition to any requirement that property tax hikes get voter approval. Sedgwick County’s shift today is extremely significant for the second-most populous county in the state, the county that contains the largest city in the state, to support voter approval for any increase in property taxes.”

Analysis

Requiring voter approval of tax increases was one the “Five Reasons to Back Karl Peterjohn” that Peterjohn used in his successful campaign for the county commission last year. His action today represents a move towards fulfilling that pledge.

It’s important to remember what the commission passed was simply their desire — and a split decision at that — for the legislature to pass a law requiring voter approval of tax increases. Whether the legislature acts on this request is anyone’s guess. For such a law to have any chance, it will take a determined advocate to press for it. The commission’s action today created no such advocate. As it stands now, the county will not have a lobbyist in Topeka next year, as the budget passed in August provided no funding for a lobbyist.

Officeholders who are in favor of more government spending are generally opposed to giving voters the right approve or refuse tax rate increases, for the simple reason that voters often refuse to approve the tax hikes. Often the argument is given that the elections that are now necessary are expensive, and there may be emergencies that require the rapid raising of funds. There may be small amounts of validity in these arguments. But tax revenues, through the natural forces of economic growth and rising property tax appraisals, rise on their own without any help from officeholders. Anything that restrains the growth of tax rates, which is what today’s proposal does, is welcome relief as a restraint on the runaway growth of government.

Wichita Eagle reporting, headlining discussed by commissioners

In today’s meeting of the Sedgwick County Commission, Wichita Eagle reporting and editorializing was the subject of an off-agenda item.

Commissioner Gwen Welshimer used this opportunity to read into the record part of a press release she issued yesterday. The entire press release, as well as video, is at the end of this article.

Commissioner and Chairman Kelly Parks mentioned that he has been disturbed with some headlines in the Wichita Eagle recently, and that the media has “not checked out some of the headlines they’ve put out.”

Commissioner Karl Peterjohn shared his concerns with misleading Wichita Eagle headlines, referring to a headline that appeared after the county approved its budget, as covered in my post Wichita Child Advocacy Center still in business, despite headline.

I spoke to Wichita Eagle reporter Bill Wilson, and he had no comment other than his reporting speaks for itself.

It should be noted that reporters generally don’t write the headlines for their stories.

Regarding this matter, it may be that the parties are quarreling over relatively minor details of events and the meaning of words.

For example, Welshimer’s press release states “Reporter Bill Wilson’s latest article stated that the City of Wichita knew nothing about the County’s plans.” The article referred to (“County scouting locations for site to ease jail crowding” August 20, 2009 Wichita Eagle) states, in part: “The county’s search is unwelcome news to city officials …” (emphasis added)

Editorialist Rhonda Holman‘s August 21 piece repeats this idea: “It reportedly was news to city officials and downtown leaders that county commissioners were discussing the possibility of locating such a facility and hadn’t ruled out the core.” (emphasis added)

Does this all boil down to what the meaning of “news” is? Does “unwelcome news” mean that someone has never heard of an item before, or does it mean “Yes, I am aware of this item, and I don’t like it?”

Following is the full text of the press release issued by Gwen Welshimer on August 25, 2009.

Either the Wichita Eagle knew they were putting out false information on their jail annex stories or they didn’t know for sure and printed their stories recklessly. Their August 20, 21, and 23 articles and editorial, claiming the County Commission had been reviewing properties in Downtown Wichita for a jail annex, were not true. The Eagle’s actions caused considerable concern for Downtown business owners. No commissioner has looked at any Downtown buildings with any real estate agent for the purpose of housing detainees. A retraction and an apology are due to the county from the Eagle.

The Eagle reporter who wrote the stories quoted me erroneously and had not interviewed me. Eagle editorialist, Rhonda Holman committed an egregious act with her August 21 editorial in which she scolded the commission for having the intent to put jail detainees Downtown. Reporter Deb Gruver showed a lack of professionalism by her participation in this deed.

Reporter Bill Wilson’s latest article stated that the City of Wichita knew nothing about the County’s plans. That was also not true. On July 29, the Wichita Mayor, Vice Mayor, and Sedgwick County Commission Chairman and I met at City Hall. The topic of conversation was that the County’s prison farm on McLean and Harry would need to be replaced in the future. This facility is currently being used to house work release detainees who go to their jobs and return there for the duration of their sentence. The Mayor said he would see if the City had a building that could be used for this purpose.

The truth is that Chairman Parks and I took one short afternoon to see two buildings with a real estate agent. We were shown warehouse properties, one off south Southeast Boulevard and one off north I-135. These properties had no potential of filling our needs. The next day the Eagle reported that we were scouting for a site in Downtown Wichita and attempting to do harm to Downtown redevelopment plans. Nothing could have been further from the truth.

I believe the Eagle is angry because of the county’s decision not to continue funding the needs of Downtown and give more consideration to the future of Sedgwick County. County commissioners did put their political careers on the line to raise the money and build a $210 million economic tool for Downtown. I have not witnessed appreciation for this effort. What I have witnessed is a constant demand for more. It appears that we will continue to be harassed by the Eagle, until we bring out the checkbook.

Gwen Welshimer
Chairman Pro-Tem
Sedgwick County Commission

Sedgwick County solid waste fee criticized

Today’s Wichita Eagle column by Rhonda Holman is a two-fer. Two issues for the price of one column, and two issues she’s wrong on. The first issue is explained in Wichita water economics.

She criticizes Commissioner Karl Peterjohn and Board Chairman Kelly Parks for the opposition of a solid waste management fee that would add a relatively small amount to property tax bills.

(When writing about Peterjohn, do I need to disclose that he and I are friends, and that I helped manage his campaign last year? I’d feel more compelled to do so if Holman would start writing editorials using her entire name.)

Holman pokes fun at Peterjohn and Parks for “operating on anti-tax autopilot” and at Peterjohn specifically for fulfilling a campaign pledge.

Anti-tax ought to be the first instinct of politicians. To me, that’s axiomatic and not a basis for criticism. There are always plenty of people in government like Commissioner Dave Unruh who are nuanced enough to recognize — as Holman reports — “with an admirable lack of exasperation: ‘It’s 69 cents.'”

The problem is that little amounts here and there add up to real money. I think that’s something like the argument Wichita City Council members used in rejecting a $2.00 per month increase in water and sewer bills. Holman supported that action.

Then, keeping a campaign pledge — what a novel concept! How refreshing!

We should also look at the public policy aspects of this waste management fee. One of the things it was used for is to fund a Christmas tree recycling program. Here’s a few questions: Is it wise economics to fund recycling projects? Specifically, if natural Christmas trees as such an environmental nuisance that they must be recycled, shouldn’t people who buy them pay for their recycling? Perhaps through a tax — wait, let’s call it a “surcharge” or a “pre-paid environmental mitigation fee” — levied at the corner tree lot?

Here are comments left to this post that were lost and then reconstructed:

Wichitatator: What is Rhonda Holman’s legal name? Why doesn’t she use it when she signs her editorials? The Eagle should not have mystery editorial writers without fully disclosing this salient fact.

Ms. “Holman” could be married to an attorney who is suing the state over school finance or some other public issue. Ms. “Holman” is a public person who wants to enjoy the perks of her editorial position in influencing public policy in this community without assuming the responsibility of publicly disclosing her name.

For an editorial board that regularly fulminates about “full disclosure” this is an odd position to take. The Eagle regularly criticizes folks who do not fully disclose a lot more than their names in their paper.

LonnythePlumber: What is her entire name? You imply mystery and wrong motivation if revealed.

Lack of information clouds Sedgwick County industrial park plans

At yesterday’s meeting of the Board of Sedgwick County Commissioners, questions about a proposed industrial park development reveal that there’s still a long way to go before all issues are uncovered, much less understood.

At the meeting, Chris Chronis, Chief Financial Officer for Sedgwick County, presented information and responded to questions. While Mr. Chronis was thorough in some areas, even some basic information and understanding is missing.

For example, questioning by Board Chairman Kelly Parks revealed that it is unknown at this time who owns the mineral rights to the property.

Commissioner Karl Peterjohn asked Chronis about the relationship between the county and the city of Bel Aire, if the land is not deannexed from that city. Chronis said there is a “complete understanding” about the role each governmental unit would play. Peterjohn then asked if that agreement was in writing. Chronis replied no.

Peterjohn asked about the costs of other things besides land acquisition, citing a figure of $.50 to $2.00 per square foot for specific streets, landscaping, telephone and communications lines, natural gas, and other items. This could amount, Peterjohn said, to $9 to $35 million in costs that aren’t included at this point.

Chronis said “It has not been our plan, nor our intent, to do any infrastructure development within this industrial park. What we are committed to do is to provide site-ready land, build-ready land, to the industrial prospects. They have to make that land serve their purposes.”

Chronis also said it’s not his plan to spend any money on the interior of this land for these things. But sources in the real estate industry tell me that prospective tenants will expect these things to be done. Somehow government will have to provide incentives to cover these costs, and these costs are not being recognized by the county at this time.

The deannexation of the land from Bel Aire is an issue that may be difficult to resolve. Remarks by Commissioner Tim Norton brought up the scenario that platting the land, if it remains in Bel Aire, would go through that city’s planning commission. That could be problematic, said Norton, if that commission wouldn’t allow the types of things the county wants to do.

The commissioners voted unanimously to defer this matter for 30 days and to have a public workshop on this issue. The date for the workshop was not set.

Parks’ Selection as Sedgwick County Commission Chair Breaks Tradition

In a move that suggests that there may be some change in the way things are done in the Sedgwick County Courthouse, Kelly Parks was selected as chairman of the Board of County Commissioners for the next year. No other name was placed in nomination.

Then, Gwen Welshimer was selected as chairmen pro tem, again with no other name placed in nomination.

Why is this a change? As the Wichita Eagle’s Deb Gruver wrote in todays news story Parks may chair commission: “For years, it’s been the Sedgwick County Commission’s tradition to ‘promote’ the board’s vice chairman to chairman.”

Sedgwick County Commission fails citizens

At yesterday’s meeting of the Sedgwick County Commission, Commissioners Tom Winters, Tim Norton, and Dave Unruh failed to take an opportunity to stand up for good government.

By ratifying the City of Wichita’s defective public hearing, notice is given that it’s open season on citizens. Their concerns are shoved aside. Commissioners say they were constrained by a very narrow range of action permitted by law. The reasons they voted against this TIF district in August are still there, though present in smaller measure.

The problem is that these politicians want something so badly that they’re willing to overlook major problems in procedures that are designed to give citizens a voice. Newspaper editorial writers aren’t helping. They’re usually at the forefront of “good government” efforts. But not the Wichita Eagle’s Rhonda Holman, who wrote this in today’s lead editorial: “Yes, as some argue, the city should have done a better job of allowing public input on the arena TIF district. The late changes to the Dec. 2 City Council agenda left the public and at least one council member unfamiliar with the plan to add $10 million for future parking needs, arming critics and fueling public distrust of local government generally.” But, she’ll go along with this action anyway.

Nothing that this TIF district can build is as important as destroying citizen confidence and procedures designed to give them a voice.

Thank you to Commissioners Gwen Welshimer and Kelly Parks for voting for the interests of citizens instead of those of Wichita’s political entrepreneurs.