Open records

Wichita needs transparency from its agencies

Wichita needs transparency from its agencies

When the Wichita city council delegates spending to outside agencies such as Visit Wichita, it should insist on the same transparency requirements the city itself faces. The Kansas Open Records Act is designed to give citizens access to data concerning their government. In the words of the Kansas Attorney General, "An open and transparent government is essential to the democratic process." The preamble to the Kansas act states, "It is declared to be the public policy of the state that public records shall be open for inspection by any person unless otherwise provided by this act, and this act shall…
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Wichita should post fulfilled records requests

Wichita should post fulfilled records requests

When the City of Wichita fulfills records requests, it should make those records available to everyone. When governmental agencies like the City of Wichita fulfill records requests, they could also publish the records on their websites. When records are supplied electronically to requestors, this is an additional simple (and low cost) step that would leverage the city’s effort and increase its value. Some federal agencies do this. For example at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website, there is a page titled FOIA Library. An example entry on this page is titled "Executive Orders on Travel Records." The explanation for…
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Wichita legal notices an easy start on the path to transparency

Wichita legal notices an easy start on the path to transparency

Kansas law requires publication of certain notices in newspapers, but cities like Wichita could also make them available in other ways that are easier to use. As Wichita's new mayor takes office, there are a few things the city could do to increase the availability and distribution of government information. An easy project to accomplish would be placing legal notices on the city's web page. Kansas law requires that many legal notices must be printed in a newspaper. That law needs to be changed. Newspapers resist this reform, as it might mean a loss of revenue for them. (That's right.…
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Business improvement district on tap in Wichita

Business improvement district on tap in Wichita

The Douglas Design District seeks to transform from a voluntary business organization to a tax-funded branch of government. Tomorrow the Wichita City Council will consider forming a business improvement district (BID) in east-central Wichita. Previously, city documents offered some explanation regarding the district: [1. City of Wichita. Agenda for August 21, 2018, Item IV-1. Available at http://www.wichita.gov/Council/Agendas/08-21-2018%20City%20Council%20Agenda%20Packet.pdf.] First, there already exists a voluntary organization: "The Douglas Design District (DDD) is a voluntary organization of over 300 local businesses located near Douglas Avenue between Washington Avenue and Oliver Avenue. In 2017, the DDD established a five-year strategic plan to become a…
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In Wichita, respecting the people’s right to know

In Wichita, respecting the people’s right to know

The City of Wichita says it values open and transparent government. But the city's record in providing information and records to citizens is poor, and there hasn't been much improvement. The City of Wichita is proud to be an open and transparent governmental agency, its officials say. Former Mayor Carl Brewer often spoke in favor of government transparency. [1. For example, in his State of the City address for 2011, Brewer listed as an important goal for the city this: "And we must provide transparency in all that we do." See https://drive.google.com/open?id=1xgx96BEXALDEgLBRcQdz2Kg0_W5x3e2J.] When the city received an award for transparency…
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Wichita legal notices an easy start on the path to transparency

Wichita legal notices an easy start on the path to transparency

Kansas law requires publication of certain notices in newspapers, but cities like Wichita could also make them available in other ways that are easier to use. As Wichita's new mayor takes office, there are a few things the city could do to increase the availability and distribution of government information. An easy project to accomplish would be placing legal notices on the city's web page. Kansas law requires that many legal notices must be printed in a newspaper. That law needs to be changed. Newspapers resist this reform, as it might mean a loss of revenue for them. (That's right.…
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Visualization: Wichita check register

Visualization: Wichita check register

Wichita spending data presented as a summary, and as a list. As part of an ongoing transparency project, I asked the City of Wichita for check register data. I’ve made the data available in a visualization using Tableau Public. Click here to access the visualization. To access a simple list in csv format, click here. For more visualizations, click here. Analyzing this data requires a bit of local knowledge. For example, there is a vendor named “Visit Wichita” that started to receive monthly payments in March 2015. What about payments for January and February? Those were made to a vendor…
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Business improvement district proposed in Wichita

Business improvement district proposed in Wichita

The Douglas Design District proposes to transform from a voluntary business organization to a tax-funded branch of government (but doesn't say so). Update: On August 21, the council approved the formation of the planning committee. This week the Wichita City Council will consider taking the first step in forming a business improvement district (BID) in east-central Wichita. Some explanation from the agenda packet for the meeting: [1. City of Wichita. Agenda for August 21, 2018, Item IV-1. Available at http://www.wichita.gov/Council/Agendas/08-21-2018%20City%20Council%20Agenda%20Packet.pdf.] First, there already exists a voluntary organization: "The Douglas Design District (DDD) is a voluntary organization of over 300 local…
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Lawrence has it. Wichita doesn’t.

Lawrence has it. Wichita doesn’t.

Despite promises, Wichita fails to inform citizens on important activities of its government. For several years, the Kansas city of Lawrence has published an economic development report letting citizens know about the activities of the city in this area. The most recent edition may be viewed here. The Lawrence report contains enough detail and length that an executive summary is provided. This report is the type of information that cities should be providing, but the City of Wichita does not do this. It's not like the City of Wichita does not realize the desirability of providing citizens with information. In…
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Kansas government data may not be available

Kansas government data may not be available

There is a movement to increase the transparency of government in Kansas, but there's much to be done, starting with attitudes. One of the major economic development programs in Kansas is PEAK, or Promoting Employment Across Kansas. [1. Weeks, Bob. PEAK, or Promoting Employment Across Kansas. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/peak-promoting-employment-across-kansas/.] It provides benefits to companies when they expand their operations in Kansas, or sometimes when they merely threaten to leave. The recent expansion by Spirit AeroSystems is reported to benefit from $23.5 million in PEAK cash. [1. Jerry Siebenmark. New facility part of Spirit’s new jobs, expansion plan. Available at http://www.kansas.com/news/business/aviation/article201082884.html.]…
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Wichita check register

Wichita check register

Wichita spending data presented as a summary, and as a list. As part of an ongoing transparency project, I asked the City of Wichita for check register data. I’ve made the data available in a visualization using Tableau Public. Click here to access the visualization. Analyzing this data requires a bit of local knowledge. For example, there is a vendor named “Visit Wichita” that started to receive monthly payments in March 2015. What about payments for January and February? Those were made to a vendor named “Go Wichita,” which changed its name to “Visit Wichita.” Similarly, there are payments made…
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A Wichita social media town hall

A Wichita social media town hall

A City of Wichita town hall meeting ends in less than nine minutes, with a question pending and unanswered. As part of its engagement with citizens, the City of Wichita holds social media town hall meetings. On June 20, 2107, there was a Facebook town hall on the topic of economic development featuring Assistant City Manager Scot Rigby. His charge is "developing and implementing a coordinated and comprehensive development services program and for developing, implementing and overseeing economic development, redevelopment and real estate programs and projects." He's worked for the city for two years. [2. City of Wichita. Assistant City…
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Wichita WaterWalk contract not followed, again

Wichita WaterWalk contract not followed, again

Wichita city hall failed to uphold the terms of a development agreement from five years ago, not monitoring contracts that protect the public interest. Two weeks ago a Wichita Eagle article reported on a 2002 public-private partnership that called for the private-sector company to submit an annual report to the city. But the company did not submit the reports, and the city didn't ask for them. The city did after the Eagle inquired. [1. Lefler, Dion. WaterWalk profit-sharing: 15 years, zero dollars for Wichita. Wichita Eagle, July 8, 2017. Available at http://www.kansas.com/news/politics-government/article160147944.html.] Much of the Eagle article described why current…
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During Sunshine Week, here are a few things Wichita could do

During Sunshine Week, here are a few things Wichita could do

The City of Wichita says it values open and transparent government, but the city lags far behind in providing information and records to citizens. The City of Wichita is proud to be an open and transparent governmental agency, its officials say. Former Mayor Carl Brewer often spoke in favor of government transparency. For example, in his State of the City address for 2011, he listed as an important goal for the city this: "And we must provide transparency in all that we do." When the city received an award for transparency in 2013, a city news release quoted Wichita City…
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WichitaLiberty.TV: Immunizations, spending and taxing in Kansas, and getting data from Wichita

WichitaLiberty.TV: Immunizations, spending and taxing in Kansas, and getting data from Wichita

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Should Sedgwick County be in competition with the private sector? What are attitudes towards taxation and spending in Kansas? Finally, what is it like to request data from the City of Wichita? View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 138, broadcast February 12, 2017. Shownotes Kansans say no to more taxes. A statewide poll finds little support for raising taxes as a way to balance the Kansas budget. Analysis of proposed tax changes in Kansas. Proposed changes in the Kansas motor fuel tax and sales tax on groceries affects households in different…
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Sedgwick County economic freedom accountability index

Sedgwick County economic freedom accountability index

A new initiative to provide residents of Sedgwick County with more information about their elected county commissioners. Indexes of voting behavior are common at the national and state levels. These indexes let voters examine how elected representatives have actually voted, rather than having to rely on their rhetoric and campaign promises. Indexes also provide a useful institutional memory. Based on my experience on producing the Kansas Economic Freedom Index for several years -- a service now provided by Kansas Policy Institute -- Sedgwick County will have such an index. It's a timely launch, as this week Sedgwick County commissioners will…
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Wichita check register

Wichita check register

A records request to the City of Wichita results in data as well as insight into the city’s attitude towards empowering citizens with data. As part of an ongoing transparency project, I asked the City of Wichita for check register data. I’ve made the data available in a visualization using Tableau Public. Click here to access the visualization. Analyzing this data requires a bit of local knowledge. For example, there is a vendor named “Visit Wichita” that started to receive monthly payments in March 2015. What about payments for January and February? Those were made to a vendor named “Go…
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In Wichita, we’ll not know how this tax money is spent

In Wichita, we’ll not know how this tax money is spent

Despite claims to the contrary, the attitude of the City of Wichita towards citizens' right to know is poor, and its attitude will likely be reaffirmed this week. This week the Wichita City Council will consider approval of a contract with Visit Wichita, the city's convention and visitor bureau. Once again, citizens will be left out of knowing how the city's tax money is spent. In the past, I've asked that Visit Wichita (formerly Go Wichita Convention and Visitors Bureau) make its spending records available. It's the same type of information that the city will send you about its own…
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In Wichita, developer welfare under a cloud

In Wichita, developer welfare under a cloud

A downtown Wichita project receives a small benefit from the city, with no mention of the really big money. Today the Wichita City Council approved a subsidy for a project in downtown Wichita. The city will lend the developer of a project at 303 S. Broadway $620,000 to improve the building's facade. The property must repay this amount through an assessment on its property tax. The benefit to the property is that the city is able to borrow money at a lower interest rate, and this reduces the cost of borrowing for the project. The agenda packet for this item…
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Towards government transparency in Wichita: Legal notices

Towards government transparency in Wichita: Legal notices

Kansas law requires publication of certain notices in newspapers, but cities like Wichita could also make them available in other ways that are easier to use. Do you read the legal publications in your local newspaper? Often they are lengthy. Many pertain to just one person or company. All are supplied using ink expressed as fine print on the chemically processed flesh of dead trees. But some legal publications are important and of interest to the general public. Kansas law requires that many legal notices must be printed in a newspaper. That law needs to be changed. As you might…
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