Tag Archives: Sedgwick county government

Retiring Sedgwick County Commissioner Dave Unruh praised

The praise for retired Sedgwick County Commissioner Dave Unruh can’t be based on our region’s accomplishments under his guidance. That is, if people are informed and truthful.

In January a group of Wichita business leaders submitted an op-ed to the Wichita Eagle to mark the retirement of Sedgwick County Commissioner Dave Unruh. I quote portions here, with emphasis added:

He easily won re-election because his constituents and the rest of us knew he was dedicated to strengthening our community, region and the state.

In economic development Commissioner Unruh was chairman in 2006 when the board voted to build a world-class technical-education facility to ensure we remained competitive for new jobs. The National Center for Aviation Training is home to the growing WSU Tech. He also championed smart economic development programs that generated additional tax dollars and regional cooperation through REAP and other efforts.

In his perseverance to get things done and his belief in our future, he’s made a difference.

On Sunday, the Wichita Eagle published a drawing by cartoonist Richard Crowson which lauded Unruh’s championing of the Intrust Bank Arena, Sedgwick County Zoo, Exploration Place, and mental health services. Responding on his Facebook profile, Commissioner Michael O’Donnell wrote this for public consumption:

“A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they will never sit in” I believe this Greek proverb sums up the leadership of Dave Unruh as much as this stupendous Wichita Eagle cartoon. Our community has been blessed by the selfless and indelible leadership of Dave Unruh. I believe he was the most consequential local leader in our region for the last 2 decades and those of us fortunate enough to live in Sedgwick County are able to sit under the countless trees which Dave planted for us and our families for generations to come.

There’s another way to look at the Dave Unruh legacy in Sedgwick County, and that is through the lens of data. A shiny downtown area is nice, but not as nice as a prospering economy. Here are some figures.

In 2001, the year when Unruh assumed office in its first month, the median household income in Sedgwick County was higher than that of both Kansas and the United States. By 2017, Unruh’s last full year on the commission, Sedgwick County had fallen behind both, and by significant margins.

In 2001, the poverty rate in Sedgwick County was lower than that for the nation. By 2017, the situation was reversed: The Sedgwick County poverty rate is now higher, and significantly higher.

Looking at other measures of prosperity, we see Sedgwick County falling behind during the time Unruh was in office. Gross domestic product, personal income, per capita personal income, population, total employment, wage and salary employment, and manufacturing employment: In all these measures Sedgwick County underperformed the nation, and usually the State of Kansas. (GDP is available only for the Wichita metropolitan area, which is dominated by Sedgwick County.)

By himself, Dave Unruh isn’t responsible for this economic performance. Many others contributed at Wichita City Hall and the Kansas Capitol, as well as some of Unruh’s colleagues on the Sedgwick County Commission. Unruh and they supported the interventionist, corporatist model of economic development, and it hasn’t worked. That’s why it’s surprising to see so much praise for Unruh. It’s sad, too, because if business leaders and politicians really believe the “Unruh way” is the way that works, the outlook for our region is bleak.

Wichita migration not improving

Data from the United States Census Bureau shows that the Wichita metropolitan area has lost many people to domestic migration, and the situation is not improving.

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.

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.

I get it: We want to be optimistic about our future. But a false optimism is dangerous. It makes us complacent, even proud, when actual accomplishments don’t support that. We may be led to believe that what our leaders are doing is working, when it isn’t working. That is dangerous.

Politicians and bureaucrats can’t be trusted to be frank and truthful about this. They want to be reelected and keep their jobs. Their actions let us know they value their jobs more than the prosperity of Wichitans.

Wichita employment to grow in 2019

Jobs are forecasted to grow in Wichita in 2019, but the forecasted rate is low.

The forecast for Wichita metro area employment in 2019 calls for modest growth of 0.9 percent, according to the Center for Economic Development and Business Research at Wichita State University. 1 This follows growth of 0.8 percent in 2018. 2

Nationally, the economy is expected to continue strong growth. 3

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. Generally, job growth in Wichita has been at about half the rate of the nation. In 2017, Wichita lost jobs.

Click for larger.

Of Wichita job growth in 2018, the CEDBR forecast notes, “This marked a return to the level of growth experienced in the Wichita area from 2012 to 2016, after experiencing a contraction in overall employment in 2017.” The average annual rate of job growth for those years in Wichita was 0.83 percent. It was 1.82 percent for the nation, which is 2.2 times the rate for Wichita.

CEDBR also notes, “Wichita’s unemployment rate declined throughout 2018 to a low of 3.5 percent in October 2018, the lowest unemployment rate for the area since 1999.” We should note that this decline is primarily due to a declining labor force in Wichita, rather than robust job growth.


  1. 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.
  2. Employment figures are not available for December 2018, so I use a crude estimate for that month.
  3. Minutes of the Federal Open Market Committee. December 18-19, 2018. Available at https://www.federalreserve.gov/monetarypolicy/fomcminutes20181219.htm.

Unruh recollections disputed

A former Sedgwick County Commissioner disputes the narrative told by a retiring commissioner.

By Karl Peterjohn
A version of this appeared in the Wichita Eagle.

Lame duck county commissioner Dave Unruh’s recent commentary (“It’s time to set the record straight.” December 14, 2018 Wichita Eagle.) is an attempt to re-write county commission history. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan said, “You are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts.” Here are county commission facts correcting the commentary fiction:

Commissioner Unruh was deeply involved in both the hiring, and recent firing, of county manager Scholes by Commissioner Unruh. I know because I was involved in Scholes’ hiring, but as a citizen, publicly opposed the firing of General Scholes, as well as county counselor, Judge Eric Yost in 2018.

The group of county manager candidates were evaluated by all five county commissioners three years ago. Three county commissioners ranked General Scholes as the best candidate. Commissioner Unruh was one of these three commissioners.

I wasn’t one of these three. While I ranked General Scholes highly, I ranked one other candidate as slightly better in our final candidate evaluations. I readily admit that I was very comfortable in agreeing with my three colleagues in hiring General Scholes. This was followed by all five commissioners: Unruh, Tim Norton, Jim Howell, Richard Ranzau, and myself voting to hire General Scholes.

Commissioner Unruh’s inaccurate commentary is part of an effort to provide an excuse for the scandalous mess that has engulfed the current county commission majority resulting in a variety of FBI and state investigations after Commissioner Michael O’Donnell’s criminal indictments. However, only Commissioner Unruh was part of the current commission majority (Unruh, O’Donnell, and David Dennis) involved in both this hiring, and supporting the firing of both General Scholes, and the county counselor, Judge Eric Yost.

This is important because there also seems to be some confusion by Commissioner Dennis about the powers of former Sedgwick County Commissioners like myself. In December, Commissioner Dennis publicly claimed that I was in some way responsible for this personnel debacle and the financial mess created by the current progressive-moderate commission majority in firing first Judge Yost, and then General Scholes.

I reject this ludicrous claim. My impact on Sedgwick County finances ended the day I left the commission in January, 2017. Anyone on the county commission who claims otherwise is trying to hide their own malfeasance. I believe that Commissioner Dennis should apologize to me for his fabulist statement. Sedgwick County citizens also deserve an apology for this commission majority’s misconduct in mishandling county staff, and finances. I have asked Commissioner Dennis for an apology for his statement attacking me, and publicly do so again with this letter.

Taxpayers will miss Richard Ranzau

When a county commissioner’s questions produce a reversal of the county manager’s spending plans, you know we have good representation.

That’s what happened in 2013 when the county manager wanted to spend $47,000 to clear some trees. Commissioner Richard Ranzau thought the expense should be the responsibility of the neighborhood that would benefit from what he thought was a thinly-veiled request to shove off spending to the county.

What did the county manager say after Ranzau’s questions?

“We got out in front of ourselves without doing much critical thinking, and I take full responsibility for that,” Sedgwick County Manager Bill Buchanan said.

Good job, Richard Ranzau. You will be missed as a member of the Board of Sedgwick County Commissioners.

Wichita employment, November 2018

For the Wichita metropolitan area in November 2018, jobs are up, the labor force is up, and the unemployment rate is down, compared to the same month one year ago. Seasonal data shows a slowdown in the rate of job growth.

Data released today by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, part of the United States Department of Labor, shows a mostly improving employment situation for the Wichita Metropolitan Statistical Area.

Total nonfarm employment rose from 296,700 last November to 302,200 this November. That’s an increase of 5,500 jobs, or 1.9 percent. (This data is not seasonally adjusted, so month-to-month comparisons are not valid.) For the same period, jobs in the nation grew by 1.6 percent.

The unemployment rate was 3.2 percent, down from 3.6 percent one year ago.

Considering seasonally adjusted data from the household survey, the labor force rose by 391 persons (0.1 percent) in November 2018 from October 2018, the number of unemployed persons fell by 8 (0.1 percent), and the unemployment rate was unchanged at 3.5 percent. The number of employed persons not working on farms rose to 298,749 in November from 298,350 the prior month, an increase of 399 persons, or 0.1 percent.

Click charts for larger versions.

Sedgwick County tops $434K in extra personnel costs

Sedgwick County has spent $434,663 in costs relating to the separations of two members of top management.

Through December 21, 2018, Sedgwick County had spent $434,663 on matters relating to former County Counselor Eric Yost and former County Manager Michael Scholes. The bulk of the costs were severance payments to both. There was also $89,375 for a study of matters related to county management. Additionally, there were attorney fees for Yost, Scholes, and all county commissioners except Michael O’Donnell.

Click here to view the report prepared by county financial staff.

Sedgwick County tax exemptions

Unlike the City of Wichita, Sedgwick County has kept track of its tax exemptions.

As part of an effort to increase efficiency and management of Sedgwick County government, former county manager Michael Scholes implemented numerous changes, as detailed in the document Efficiencies in Sedgwick County government. One management accomplishment was described as this:

Developed a tax system and business intelligence query to identify Industrial Revenue Bonds (IRB) & Economic Development (EDX) tax exemptions and report foregone property tax revenues for Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB) 77 reporting. The report provides the ability to report by tax authority, company, and real or personal property for one (1) or up to four (4) years. Prior reporting was time consuming and error prone; requiring manual data entry into Excel spreadsheets.

The county has not made this report available on its website. To access this report in an alternative manner, click here

The City of Wichita, to my knowledge, does not provide information like this, except as a total amount in the city’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR). (The city and county numbers are not in agreement, and by a large amount.)

Of note, the mayor’s page on the Wichita city government website holds this: “Mayor Longwell has championed many issues related to improving the community including government accountability, accessibility and transparency …” So far, the mayor’s leadership and stewardship has not produced this level of information.

Of further note, a majority of the Sedgwick County Commission decided to fire Michael Scholes.

Efficiencies in Sedgwick County government

A document that hasn’t been made public details savings achieved in Sedgwick County over a recent period of nearly three years.

A document prepared within the Sedgwick County Division of Finance details savings of $6,308,097 over a period of almost three years, starting in November 2015. That is the month when Michael Scholes joined Sedgwick County as County Manger. His last day as manager was November 30, 2018, after being dismissed by the county commission. This document is dated August 29, 2018.

An example of a savings is: “Eliminated 6.0 FTEs and associated funding due to the outsourcing of EMS Billing ($304,027).”

The document contains a summary:

  • Priority 1 – Safe & Secure Communities had a total savings listed of $3,959,137, where the categories of efficiencies included technology changes, process improvements, consolidation, training, grants to offset costs, and staffing changes.
  • Priority 2 – Human Services & Cultural Experiences had a total savings listed of $1,931,447, where the categories of efficiencies included technology changes, process improvements, staffing changes, consolidation, training, and collaboration with other entities.
  • Priority 3 – Communications & Engagement had efficiencies in transparency and elections process with the purchase of new voting equipment.
  • Priority 4 – Effective Government Organization had a total savings listed of $417,513, where the categories of efficiencies included technology changes, process improvements, and staffing changes.

To the best of my knowledge, this document has not been shared with the public, and is not found on the county’s website. I make it available here.

Sedgwick County income and poverty

Census data show Sedgwick County continuing to fall behind the nation in two key measures.

Data released today from the United States Census Bureau through the Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates (SAIPE) Program shows Sedgwick County median household income continues to fall farther behind the nation.

In 1989, median household income in Sedgwick County was greater than that for Kansas and the nation. In 2017, however, Sedgwick County has fallen behind both.

In 1989, the all-age poverty rate in Sedgwick County was less than the national rate, but now it is higher.

As can be seen in the nearby charts produced by the Census Bureau’s visualization tool, the trend in economic performance between Sedgwick County and the nation started diverging around the time of the last recession. As time passes, the gap between the two generally grows larger, with Sedgwick County falling farther behind.

Courtesy U.S. Census Bureau. Click for larger.
Courtesy U.S. Census Bureau. Click for larger.

Wichita employment, October 2018

For the Wichita metropolitan area in October 2018, jobs are up, the labor force is up, and the unemployment rate is down, compared to the same month one year ago. Seasonal data shows a slowdown in the rate of job growth.

Data released today by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, part of the United States Department of Labor, shows a mostly improving employment situation for the Wichita Metropolitan Statistical Area.

Total nonfarm employment rose from 296,900 last October to 299,000 this October. That’s an increase of 2,100 jobs, or 0.7 percent. (This data is not seasonally adjusted, so month-to-month comparisons are not valid.) For the same period, jobs in the nation grew by 1.7 percent.

The unemployment rate was 3.3 percent, down from 3.5 percent one year ago.

Considering seasonally adjusted data from the household survey, the labor force rose by 719 persons (0.2 percent) in October 2018 from September 2018, the number of unemployed persons rose by 283 (2.7 percent), and the unemployment rate was unchanged at 3.5 percent. The number of employed persons not working on farms rose to 298,219 in October from 297,783 the prior month, an increase of 436 persons, or 0.1 percent.

Click charts for larger versions.

WichitaLiberty.TV: Economic development incentives

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: A look at some economic development incentive programs in Wichita and Kansas. Second in a series. Tax increment financing (TIF) is prominent in this episode. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 219, broadcast November 25, 2018.


Sedgwick County jobs, second quarter 2018

For the second quarter of 2018, the number of jobs in Sedgwick County grew slightly slower than the nation.

Data released today from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, part of the United States Department of Labor shows an improving labor picture in Sedgwick County, growing at a rate 80 percent of the nation.

For the second quarter of 2018 there were 12,600 establishments in Sedgwick County employing 250,800 workers. That is an increase in jobs of 1.2 percent from the same time the previous year, a proportional rate which ranked 176 among the nation’s 349 largest counties. For the same period, the national job growth rate was 1.5 percent. (Ranked by employment, Sedgwick County is the 123rd largest county.)

These are figures from the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages program.

The average weekly wage was $882, an increase of 2.7 percent over the year, that change ranking 204 among the same 349 largest counties. The U.S. average weekly wage was $1,055, increasing by 3.4 percent over the same period.

WichitaLiberty.TV: Economic development incentives

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: A look at some economic development incentive programs in Wichita and Kansas. First in a series. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 218, broadcast November 18, 2018.


Personal income in Wichita rises, but slowly

For 2017, personal income in Wichita rose, but slower than the national rate.

Today Bureau of Economic Analysis, an agency of the United States Department of Commerce, released personal income figures for metropolitan areas through the complete year 2017. For the Wichita metropolitan statistical area, personal income in 2017 rose from the 2016 level in nominal dollars, and is now slightly less than the 2104 level.

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.

While the Wichita area has kept up with national personal income growth and even surpassed it in some years, that is no longer the case. Wichita’s income has stalled while national income continues to grow.

Click for larger.
Click for larger.

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.

WichitaLiberty.TV: Bob and Karl look at election results

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Bob and Karl look at election results nationally, in Kansas, and in Sedgwick County. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 217, broadcast November 11, 2018.


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.

The Pete Meitzner era in Wichita

Wichita City Council Member Pete Meitzner (district 2, east Wichita) is running for a position on the Sedgwick County Commission.

He’s running on his record of economic development. His website says: “Pete’s seven years on the City Council has proven to be a large part of the positive momentum we have recently experienced.”

Let’s take a look at the record. Click here to view a presentation of the numbers.

Example from the presentation. Click the chart to view the presentation.

Pete Meitzner for Sedgwick County?

In normal times, Republicans may be reluctant to vote for a Democrat for the Sedgwick County Commission. But these are not normal times, and a vote for Pete Meitzner sends a message that we just don’t care about our economy.

If you’ve been following analyst James Chung — and it seems like everyone has — he’s delivered a sobering message: The Wichita economy has not been growing. “[Wichita has been] stuck in neutral for about three decades, with basically no growth, amidst the landscape of a growing U.S. economy,” he said. (In 2017 the Wichita economy shrank from the previous year.)

Chung says we need to change our ways. In his June visit he said, and the Chung Report wrote, “Every market signal points to the same conclusion: The manner in which Wichita is operating during this critical point in our history is just not working.”

So what needs to change? Chung doesn’t say, but here are two things:

First, there are some elected officials and bureaucrats who have presided over the stagnation of the Wichita-area economy. These people need to go.

Second, there are also institutions that are problems, with one glaring example. In one way or another, the Wichita Regional Chamber of Commerce has taken the lead in economic development for many years. In recent years the Chamber ran Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition. Now the effort has been split off to a non-profit corporation, the Greater Wichita Partnership.

That sounds good, but under the hood it’s the same leadership and the same methods, although with a few new hired hands.

So when James Chung (and others) says our manner of operation is not working, it’s the Wichita Chamber of Commerce and its ecosystem that must assume a large portion of blame.

That Chamber ecosystem is pumped up and funded by the City of Wichita and Sedgwick County. Bureaucrats and elected officials on those bodies who have supported these economic development efforts must be dismissed.

At the top of this list is Wichita City Council Member Pete Meitzner (district 2, east Wichita). He’s running as a Republican for an open position on the Sedgwick County Commission in east Wichita.

Why should voters reject Pete Meitzner? That’s a good question, because on his campaign web page he promotes his experience: “Pete’s seven years on the City Council has proven to be a large part of the positive momentum we have recently experienced.”

He’s endorsed by the retiring county commissioner he seeks to replace. Again, from his campaign page, there’s this from Sedgwick County Commissioner Dave Unruh: “Pete displays leadership that produces results. We need to only look to the City of Wichita’s recent successes to see the type of leadership Meitzner is capable of. His enthusiasm and business-minded approach to challenges has greatly helped create the positive momentum that Wichita experiences today. Sedgwick County needs Meitzner’s leadership.”

Click for larger.

Let’s compare these claims to the record. Nearby is a chart of nonfarm jobs in the Wichita metropolitan area. I’ve identified when Unruh and Meitzner took office. As you can see, when Unruh took office there had been a downturn. But the Wichita economy improved, although slower than the national economy.

When Meitzner took his position on the city council, there had also been a downtown. The national economy recovered. But the Wichita-area economy has not recovered. As time passes, the gap between the Wichita and national economy grows.

Wichita and national GDP. Click for larger.

There are other indicators besides jobs that illustrate the performance of the Wichita-area economy. Gross Domestic Product, the total value of everything produced, has fallen.

Click for larger.

Real personal income fell in 2016, the last year for which there is data. Over the years, its growth in Wichita has been slower than most other areas.

To see how others evaluate the Wichita-area economy, consider the Brookings Institution Metro Monitor. From Brookings you can also learn that Wichita exports are falling.

Is the record of Dave Unruh relevant when considering whether to vote for Pete Meitzner? Yes. Meitzner praises Unruh’s record: “His (Unruh’s) legacy of 16 years of professionalism … has been many successes and often the calm in the storm that’s been of recent,” Meitzner said. “There’s a strong feeling in the community that what we’re doing in the city and in the region is really moving in the right direction. I can help the county have our oars in the water going the same way as the whole region.” (“Wichita City Council member hopes to become calming force on County Commission” Wichita Eagle, February 13, 2018.)

Except: the legacy of Unruh in economic development is stagnation and falling behind, as is Meitzner’s record on the city council. As for “professionalism” and “calm in the storm,” we must take notice that the FBI is investigating Unruh for “potential obstruction of justice based on possible whistleblower retaliation.” (“FBI investigating possible obstruction of justice in Sedgwick County Commission” Wichita Eagle, October 23, 2018.)

Despite all the evidence, Meitzner is running on his record. His campaign literature says he is committed to “Maintaining his track record of successful ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT.” He praises the Wichita city manager, the city bureaucracy, and our economic development machinery for doing a good job. He believes these are doing the right thing.

This demonstrates another problem. Besides presiding over our region’s poor economic performance, Meitzner (and Unruh) do not acknowledge the problem. To them, there is “momentum.” We’re “really moving in the right direction,” Meitzner says.

For someone to say these things, they must be either blissfully ignorant, a blatant liar, or someone who wants to be in office so badly that they’ll say anything to be elected.

Republicans may be reluctant to vote for a Democrat for the Sedgwick County Commission. In normal times, I am too. But these are not normal times, and a vote for Pete Meitzner sends a message that we just don’t care about our economy.