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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Wichita TIF projects: some background. Tax increment financing disrupts the usual flow of tax dollars, routing funds away from cash-strapped cities, counties, and schools back to the TIF-financed development. TIF creates distortions in the way cities develop, and researchers find that the use of TIF means lower economic growth.
Industrial revenue bonds in Kansas: Industrial Revenue Bonds are a mechanism that Kansas cities and counties use to allow companies to avoid paying property and sales taxes.
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.)
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.
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.
Industrial revenue bonds in Kansas: Industrial Revenue Bonds are a mechanism that Kansas cities and counties use to allow companies to avoid paying property and sales taxes.
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.
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.
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.
Election results at Politico. This is one of the best sites for analysis of election results.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Sedgwick County Commissioner Richard Ranzau explains the current problems with corruption in the county. Then, Renee Duxler tells us why she’s running for Sedgwick County Commission. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 215, broadcast October 28, 2018.
Must the City of Wichita spend its share of Sedgwick County sales tax proceeds in a specific way?
Sedgwick County collects a one-cent per dollar retail sales tax. The county keeps some, then distributes the rest to cities. On Facebook, a question arose regarding how Wichita may spend its share of the sales tax proceeds. Couldn’t some funds that go towards building Kellogg be rerouted to, say, fund the operations of Wichita’s public library system?
A former city council member argued that “As it stands, Wichita cannot spend its allocated portion of that sales tax on anything but roads and bridges.” I posted that there was a Wichita city ordinance that said how the sales tax is to be spent in Wichita, and that ordinance could be modified or canceled. The same former council member admonished me to call a specific person in the city budget office and “he will clarify for you that the City Council doesn’t have the ability to override the Sedgwick County sales tax referendum language.”
I looked for the referendum language. The document is available in Sedgwick County’s election document system. The canvass of the special sales tax election was held on August 2, 1985, and this was reported:
The returns of the election were presented to the Board as received from the official conducting the election on the following proposition:
SHALL THE FOLLOWING BE ADOPTED?
A proposition to enact a countywide retailers’ sales tax in Sedgwick County, Kansas, in the amount of one percent (1%), such tax to take effect on October 1, 1985, pursuant to K.S.A. 1984 Supp. 12-187.
The language of the referendum is silent regarding how the tax revenue may or may not be spent.
There are, however, other considerations. One, according to Mark Manning, the city’s budget officer, is that the city has borrowed money, with proceeds from the sales tax pledged for repayment.
Second, there is a Wichita city ordinance, number 41-185. It pledges half the city’s share of the sales tax towards property tax reduction. Then, it states: “… and pledges the remaining one half of the one percent (1%) of any revenues received to Wichita road, highway and bridge projects including right-of-way acquisitions.” This was adopted on August 25, 1992 and replaced an existing ordinance that said the same.
The 1992 ordinance also holds this, in section II: “It is the specific intent of the Governing Body of the City of Wichita that the City of Wichita continue to use the tax revenues as outlined in this ordinance and that this pledge be continued as a matter of faith and trust between the people and the present and future Governing Bodies of the City of Wichita.”
We often hear that half the city’s share of the sales tax is pledged for Kellogg construction. In actuality it is pledged to “Wichita road, highway and bridge projects.”
But really, it isn’t even pledged to that. The pledge is in the form of a city ordinance. It may be changed at any time at the will of four council members.
Yes, the ordinance says the city intends to continue using the tax revenues in the same way “as a matter of faith and trust.” Unfortunately, that trust has been destroyed in many ways, one being council members who tell us things that aren’t true.
I couldn’t stop noticing. I’d go on to see the same in Colorado Springs, in Fresno, in Indianapolis, in Oklahoma City, in Nashville.
And it wasn’t just the coffee shops — bars, restaurants, even the architecture of all the new housing going up in these cities looked and felt eerily familiar. Every time I walked into one of these places, my body would give an involuntary shudder. I would read over my notes for a city I’d visited months prior and find that several of my observations could apply easily to the one I was currently in.
In his commentary on this article, Aaron M. Renn wrote: “While every company tries its hardest to convince you of how much different and better it is than every other company in its industry, every city tries its hardest to convince you that it is exactly the same as every other city that’s conventionally considered cool.”
Later in the same piece, he wrote:
A challenge these places face is that the level of improvement locally has been so high, locals aren’t aware of how much the rest of the country has also improved. So they end up with an inflated sense of how much better they are doing versus the market. … People in these Midwest cities did not even know what was going on in the next city just 100 miles down the road. They were celebrating all these downtown condos being built. But the same condos were being built everywhere. … But even today people in most cities don’t really seem to get it that every city now has this stuff. Their city has dramatically improved relative to its own recent past, but it’s unclear how much it’s improved versus peers if at all.
Does this — the sameness of everywhere — apply to Wichita? Sure. Everyone thinks Wichita is different from everywhere else. We have a flag! A warehouse district! A Frank Lloyd Wright house! The NCAA basketball tournament! We’re (probably) getting a new baseball team and stadium!
We even have, as Schwindt does in cataloging what you’ll find in every single city mid-size and above, “Public murals that dare you to pass them without posing for a pic for the ‘gram.”
So many other places have this stuff, too.
It isn’t bad that Wichita has these things. But the danger, as Renn notes, is that these things don’t distinguish Wichita. As much as we wish otherwise, these things are probably not going to reverse the course of the declining Wichita economy. If you don’t believe the Wichita economy is declining, consider that our GDP in 2016 was smaller than in the year before. Wichita metro employment growth was nonexistent during 2017, meaning it’s unlikely that GDP grew by much. (In January 2017 total non-farm employment in the Wichita MSA was 295,000. In January 2018 it was the same. See chart here.)
Even things that might really have a positive effect on the economy, like the Wichita State University Innovation Campus, are far from unique to Wichita. But developments like this are pitched to Wichitans as things that will really put Wichita on the map. A prosperous future is assured, we are told.
It’s great to love your city. But we can’t afford to be lulled into complacency — a false recognition of achievement — when all the data says otherwise.