Tag Archives: Twitter

Did Jeff Longwell dodge a tough city council vote?

On election day, Wichita city council member and mayoral candidate Jeff Longwell appears to have ducked an inconvenient vote and would not say why.

At his Wichita mayoral campaign announcement last November, then-council member Jeff Longwell called for a moratorium on the use of forgivable loans until a new policy is implemented. 1

Jeff Longwell, now Wichita mayor
Jeff Longwell, now Wichita mayor

At other times he called for the end to traditional cash incentives, telling the Wichita Eagle “I think that we have to get away from the traditional cash incentives that we’ve been using and look for better ways to grow jobs in this community.” 2

In the Wichita Eagle voter guide, for the question “What is your philosophy or practice regarding public incentives for companies and developers?” Longwell started his response with this: “I believe there is a better way to promote economic growth.” 3

Wichita voters can be excused for believing Jeff Longwell wants to pursue economic development in a different way. It was a good strategy for the candidate to employ, as the rejection of the sales tax last year by Wichita voters is widely thought to be grounded in voter distrust of the economic development package.

Summary of benefits for Figeac AeroOn election day this April, an economic development incentive package was under consideration by the Wichita city council. The deal contained a common mix of incentives from city, county and state. Details on the amounts of the incentives were sketchy, so I estimated the benefit to the company at $2,315,000 up front cash and credits equivalent to cash, and $605,000 in ongoing annual benefits for at least five years. 4

This was an example of the traditional way Wichita and other cities do economic development, that is, targeted incentives for specific companies. It’s something that Longwell said we need to get away from, especially the forgivable loans part, having called for a moratorium on their use.

This matter provided a perfect opportunity for Longwell to cast a vote aligned with his new perspectives on economic development. So when this matter came before the city council, how did Longwell vote?

The answer is: We don’t know. Longwell didn’t vote. At about 10:27 am, shortly before the council took up this economic development incentives agenda item, Longwell left the council chambers. He did not return before the meeting ended. When asked why he left the meeting, Longwell would not provide an answer. He provided several contradictory explanations. He said he would explain at his campaign watch party on election night the reason for leaving, but would not say that afternoon why he left the meeting. (See Twitter and Facebook dialogs following.)

In a profile during the campaign, Longwell told the Wichita Eagle “I certainly can appreciate and understand the need to not vote on items, but sometimes you just simply, as tough as it is, you have to take a position,” he said. “I don’t know any better way to explain it. It’s part of the responsibility of being elected to do a job. 5

Here was a tough vote for Longwell. It was an opportunity for citizens to see him cast a vote in alignment with his campaign rhetoric. But he didn’t vote. He didn’t take a position, and he wouldn’t say why.

This isn’t the first time Longwell has dodged questions he doesn’t want to answer. He canceled an appearance on The Joseph Ashby Show and would not reschedule. Ashby, for those who haven’t listened, asks tough questions.

Twitter and Facebook transcripts, April 7, 2015

Bob Weeks @bob_weeks Apr 7
Does anyone know why Jeff Longwell left the city council meeting early? @jefflongwellict #ictcouncil @CityofWichita

Jeff Longwell @jefflongwellict Apr 7
@bob_weeks I had a prior appointment. I had to see a man about a horse. I know you miss me when I’m not there. @CityofWichita

Bob Weeks @bob_weeks Apr 7
@jefflongwellict @CityofWichita May I ask why you made an appointment during city council hours?

Jeff Longwell @jefflongwellict Apr 7
@bob_weeks Bob, I’m touched. Thank you for being concerned that my voice is being heard on the council and I’m there to help guide our city.

Jeff Longwell @jefflongwellict Apr 7
@bob_weeks Also, this was unplanned and was of a personal nature. But thank you for your concern. It means a lot, Bob.

Bob Weeks @bob_weeks Apr 7
@jefflongwellict @CityofWichita Would you please answer why you made an appointment during city council hours?

Bob Weeks @bob_weeks Apr 7
@jefflongwellict @CityofWichita Which was it? A prior appointment or unplanned?

Jeff Longwell @jefflongwellict Apr 7
@bob_weeks An appointment I had to schedule this morning. Priorly unplanned to making it. Don’t worry, I’m fine. @CityofWichita

Bob Weeks @bob_weeks Apr 7
@jefflongwellict @CityofWichita Could you please tell us some details? Why did it have to be done during a city council meeting?

Bob Weeks @bob_weeks Apr 7
@jefflongwellict @CityofWichita When a council member and mayoral candidate misses an important vote, the public has a right to know why.

Jeff Longwell @jefflongwellict Apr 7
@bob_weeks City council members leave meetings periodically. It’s a personal matter, not a conspiracy, Bob. @CityofWichita

Jeff Longwell @jefflongwellict Apr 7
@bob_weeks if you’d like to stop by my watch party tonight we can chat about it all you want. @CityofWichita

Bob Weeks @bob_weeks Apr 7
@jefflongwellict @CityofWichita You will not tell voters why you scheduled this appointment, is that your response?

Bob Weeks @bob_weeks Apr 7
@jefflongwellict @CityofWichita It’s not me who deserves to know. It’s the people of Wichita who need to know why a council member left.

Jeff Longwell @jefflongwellict Apr 7
@bob_weeks Nothing would have changed with my vote today, Bob. Council members miss on occasion. @CityofWichita

Bob Weeks @bob_weeks Apr 7
@jefflongwellict @CityofWichita If you had a legitimate reason for missing a vote, I would think you’d be willing to tell voters details.

Later, on Facebook:

Mayor Jeff Longwell: As I said, while I appreciate your concern and the fact that you feel my presence is crucial to city council meetings, I had to leave for a personal matter. Council members leave meetings on occasion, and nothing would have changed with the addition of my vote. But it really means a lot to me that you feel I’m a vital part of the council and miss me when I’m gone, Bob.
April 7 at 3:02pm

Bob Weeks: Dodging the question again. You said that you would tell me tonight why you left the meeting, so why won’t you say now?
April 7 at 3:05pm


  1. Wichita Eagle, 2015. Economic Development Among Mayoral Candidate Jeff Longwell’s Priorities For Wichita. Accessed April 16 2015. Available at www.kansas.com/news/local/article393829.
  2. Wichita Eagle, 2015. Jeff Longwell, Sam Williams Advance In Race For Wichita Mayor. Accessed April 16 2015. Available at www.kansas.com/news/politics-government/election/article12332810.html.
  3. C3.thevoterguide.org, 2015. Wichita Mayor — The Wichita Eagle Voter Guide. Accessed April 16 2015. Available at c3.thevoterguide.org/v/wichita15/race-detail.do?id=14013125.
  4. Weeks, Bob. 2015. Figeac Aero Economic Development Incentives. Voice For Liberty In Wichita. Accessed April 16 2015. Available at wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/figeac-aero-economic-development-incentives/.
  5. Wichita Eagle, 2015. Council Member Jeff Longwell Touts Experience In Mayoral Race. Accessed April 16 2015. Available at www.kansas.com/news/politics-government/election/article15627836.html.

Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer on citizen engagement

Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer and the city council are proud of their citizen engagement efforts. Should they be proud?

The day after the November 2014 election in which Wichita voters rejected a proposed city sales tax, Mayor Carl Brewer and most members of the Wichita City Council held a press conference to discuss the election. A theme of the mayor is that the city reached out to citizens, gathered feedback, and responded. Here are a few of his remarks:

As elected officials, it’s our duty and responsibility to listen to citizens each and every day. And certainly any and every thing that they have to say, whether we agree or disagree, is important to each and every one of us. Anytime they are able to provide us that, we should continue to try to reach out and try to find ways to be able to talk to them. …

We appreciate the engagement process of talking to citizens, finding out what’s important to them. Last night was part of that process. …

We will certainly be engaging them, the individuals in opposition. As you heard me say, the city of Wichita — the city council members — we represent everyone in the entire city. From that standpoint, everyone’s opinion is important to us. As you heard me say earlier, whether we agree or disagree, or just have a neutral position on whatever issue that may be, it is important to us, and we’re certainly willing to listen, and we certainly want their input.

So just how does Wichita city government rate in citizen involvement and engagement? As it turns out, there is a survey on this topic. Survey respondents were asked to rate “the job Wichita does at welcoming citizen involvement.” The results are shown in the nearby chart created from data in the most recent version of the Wichita Performance Measure Report. The numbers are the percent of respondents giving “excellent” or “good” as their response to the question.

Wichita citizen involvement, percent rating excellent or good 2012

The report says this performance is “much below” a benchmark set by the National Research Center National Citizen Survey. It also tells us that the city expects to re-survey citizens in 2014. For that year, the city has given itself the lofty target of 40 percent of citizens rating the job Wichita does at welcoming citizen involvement as excellent or good.

In the press conference Mayor Brewer also said “We did the Facebook and we did the Twitter.” Except, the city ignored many questions about the sales tax that were posted on its Facebook wall.

Here’s another example of how the mayor and council welcome citizen involvement. Wichita participates in a program designed to produce lower air fares at the Wichita airport. It probably works. But I’ve done research, and there is another effect. As can be seen in the nearby chart, the number of flights and the number of available seats is declining in Wichita. These measures are also declining on a national level, but they are declining faster in Wichita than for the nation. See also Wichita airport statistics: the visualization and Kansas Affordable Airfares program: Benefits and consequences.

wichita-airport-dashboard-2013-07-29About this time Sedgwick County Commissioner Karl Peterjohn had appointed me to serve on the Wichita Airport Advisory Board. That required city council approval. Only one council member vote to approve my appointment. In its reporting, the Wichita Eagle said: “Mayor Carl Brewer was clear after the meeting: The city wants a positive voice on the airport advisory board, which provides advice to the council on airport-related issues. ‘We want someone who will participate, someone who will contribute,’ Brewer said. ‘We want someone who will make Affordable Airfares better, who will make the airport better. You’ve seen what he does here,’ Brewer went on, referencing Weeks’ frequent appearances before the council to question its ethics and spending habits. ‘So the question becomes, ‘Why?'”

As far as I know, I am the only person who has done this research on the rapidly declining availability of flights and seats available in Wichita. You might think the city would be interested in information like this, and would welcome someone with the ability to produce such research on a citizen board. But that doesn’t matter. From this incident, we learn that the city does not welcome those who bring inconvenient facts to the table.

Then there’s this, as Carrie Rengers reported in the Wichita Eagle in October 2013:

“I don’t normally spend this much time having a conversation with you because I know it doesn’t do any good.”

— Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer to conservative blogger Bob Weeks as the two argued over cronyism during Tuesday’s City Council meeting

“I really wasn’t offended today … because the mayor’s been ruder to better people than me.”

— Weeks’ response when asked about the exchange after the meeting

At least Mayor Brewer didn’t threaten to sue me. As we’ve seen, if you ask the mayor to to live up to the policies he himself promotes, he may launch a rant that ends with you being threatened with a lawsuit.

So much for welcoming citizen engagement.

Your smartphone is your activism toolkit

Your smartphone is a valuable tool for activism. Here are two ways to get involved.

Many people wonder how they can be involved in helping to improve government as a citizen activist. It may be that you have a valuable tool that’s in your pocket, and that you take everywhere you go: Your smartphone.

Street lights in downtown Wichita, July 22, 2014.
Street lights in downtown Wichita, July 22, 2014.
You may have seen me showing photographs of street lights burning in downtown Wichita during the middle of sunny afternoons. Have you ever spotted government waste like that? I’m sure that you have. I think people forget they have a fairly high-quality camera with them at all times in their smartphones. So here’s something that you can do: Take a photograph or shoot some video. Send it to me or to your local government watchdog. People like me need information. I need tips. Put your smartphone to work for something beside selfies.

Another thing you can do with your smartphone that is very helpful is to capture documents. Here’s an example. At election time, campaigns and political groups send a lot of mail pieces to voters. Some of these will contain falsehoods or distortions that need to be exposed so that the guilty parties can be held accountable. But much of the time, these political mailings go unnoticed. That’s because a Kansas House of Representatives campaign, for example, covers a relatively small population. Then, campaigns may send mail to only the people they consider active voters, and may narrow down the list using other criteria like political party. Or campaigns may send certain mail pieces to small subsets of voters. So any single campaign mail piece may go to a relatively small number of households.

What can you do to help? Use your smartphone or regular camera to capture documents like campaign mailers. You can do this by simply take a regular photograph with the built-in camera app. That usually works well enough if you follow a few guidelines, and with a little practice you can create documents are are very usable.

Probably the three most important things to remember are to avoid glare, maintain perspective, and crop. If your light source or flash creates glare on the document, the document may not be usable. By perspective, I mean having your camera square and perpendicular relative to the document so that its dimensions are not distorted. (I find that placing the document on the floor and then getting right over it helps.) Finally, cropping removes unneeded parts of the image. Remember, what we’re trying to do here is to create usable documents that can be read. We don’t have to worry about creating archival-quality documents like you would be if you’re digitizing and preserving family photographs.

As I said, you can do this with the regular camera app in your smartphone. But there are specialized document scanning apps. I’ve used several, and one I can recommend is called Scanbot. Another is CamScanner.

Using Scanbot
Using Scanbot
Scanbot is free for both Apple and Android smartphones and tablets, although there is a paid version with extra features like optical character recognition. What I like about Scanbot is that as you’re taking a photo, the app coaches you on the screen with tips like “too dark,” “get closer,” or “perspective.” Finally, it will command “don’t move” and it will snap the photo. You can then add more pages.

When finished, it creates a pdf from the scan. That’s really handy, as you then have one pdf document that holds all pages of the campaign mailer or other document. Then, you can have the app send the pdf by email or upload it to cloud-based storage systems like DropBox or Google Drive. (I recommend both of these systems.)

Be careful about sharing personal information.
Be careful about sharing personal information.
I should warn you: If you plan on sending something that you received in the mail that has your address or any other personal information on it, be aware and be careful. You could erase it using an editing app on your smartphone or computer, but in many cases the easiest thing to do is to obliterate your address with a marker pen before you capture the document. Or, you might cover it with paper, or excise it with scissors.

This type of intelligence-gathering is extremely valuable. Now, you may be thinking “Wait a minute. Don’t political campaigns post their mailers on their websites or Facebook?” The answer is some do, and some don’t. For the negative mail pieces — the ones that often contain the type of distortions that need to be exposed — it’s rare for a political campaign to make these mailers available to the public.

So this is a way you can be involved in gathering information. It could be campaign mailers, political campaign handouts, meeting agendas, material distributed at meetings, things you see on your computer screen, anything. It could be material distributed

I can’t tell you how many times people have complained to me about something they received in the mail or at a meeting. I ask “can you scan it and send it to me?” Well, not many people have scanners in their home. But now many people have smartphones. With a little practice, you can capture these documents in electronic form.

Then, what do you do with these documents? The campaigns of candidates that you support need intelligence like this. News reporters need documents for tips and substantiation of stories. You can share documents on social media like Facebook and Twitter. You can send them to me or your local government watchdog person or organization. There’s a lot you can do.

Government officials at all levels count on the average citizen not being interested or informed about government. We can hold government more closely accountable if we have information, and this a way that anyone can help.

Twitter, helpful in this case

A useful contribution of Twitter to society is to reveal how little some people actually know about their causes.

It started with this. American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, was holding a meeting in Kansas City, and there was a lot of ALEC-bashing going on. But I like what ALEC does, as I tweeted:

Which provided an opportunity to explain the fundamental axiom of libertarianism, and how libertarians apply it to everyone, including government:

As ALEC is accused of being a tool for corporate interests, I asked a question:

ALEC’s critics revealed themselves to be uninformed:

The following reveals severe confusion in its reference to Ayn Rand. Regarding capitalism, she wrote: “When I say ‘capitalism’” I mean a full, pure, uncontrolled, unregulated laissez-faire capitalism — with a separation of state and economics, in the same way and for the same reasons as the separation of state and church.” When business corporations ask for subsidies, tax breaks, and the like, they violate this principal. There is a conflict between the interests of many businesses and capitalism.

Telling someone what they know is a lazy and weak form of argument, isn’t it?

I think that was the end of the conversation.

2013 year in review: Top 10 stories from the Sunflower State

2013 year in review: Top 10 stories from the Sunflower State

By Travis Perry, Kansas Watchdog

OSAWATOMIE, Kan. — It’s over, done, finalized, finito. With the final days and hours of 2013 ticking to a close, we figured it’s a good time for reflection on what the last 12 months have brought the Sunflower State.

So, without further delay, Kansas Watchdog presents its Top 10 stories of 2013.

Strip Club

1. Wayward welfare dollars

An in-depth investigation into howKansans spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in government welfare money came to a shocking conclusion: a striking number of transactions appear to be going toward anything but the basic necessities. From casinos and liquor stores to smoke shops and even strip clubs, Kansas Watchdog uncovered more than $43,000 in transactions at shady ATM locations around the state. To make matters worse, all this only took place over a three-month period.

Read It:
Kansans spent welfare cash on strippers, smokes and sour mash

Video camera

2. Camera-shy state lawmakers

Fun fact: Did you know the Kansas Capitol is capable of broadcasting live video online of some of the Legislature’s most important committee meetings? Don’t beat yourself up over it. A striking number of lawmakers don’t know, either. It’s the end result of years of apathy that has led the state to be one of only 11 nationwide that do not stream some form of live video. If some kid in the middle of nowhere can attract global eyeballs with nothing more than a camera phone, what’s keeping the Kansas Legislature off the air?

Read it:
Camera shy: Kansas legislators sidestep transparency
Eye in the sky: Kansas legislative leader won’t require streaming video

3. Judicial selection gymnastics

Here’s a shocking revelation: politics sway candidate commentaries, and Kansas is no exception. Gov. Sam Brownback’s pick for the Kansas Court of Appeals is a prime example of this, after the situation prompted his Democratic gubernatorial challenger to switch sides on his stance to oppose the new nominee. And how could we forget that, in their rush to criticize the conservative governor, Kansas Democrats conveniently forgot thatKathleen Sebelius did almost the exact same thing only a few years earlier.

Read it:
Democratic leader flip-flops on Kansas judicial nominee
Partisan politics fuel Kansas Democrat’s change of heart
Kansas Democrats use double standard on judicial nomination criticism

4. Follow the money

And as long as we’re on the topic of judicial nominees, how about we turn the spotlight on a few other critics of Brownback’s decision? Namely theLeague of Women Voters and Justice At Stake, both of which claim to be nonpartisan organizations while simultaneously accepting large sums of cash from George Soros’ liberal nonprofits, the Tides Foundation and Open Society Institute.

Read it:
Soros bankrolls ‘nonpartisan’ critics of Kansas governor
‘Nonpartisan’ critic says Soros cash hasn’t caused political bias

5. Fiscal follies

Ever wonder just how much work goes into calculating the cost of a legislative proposal? Not that much, apparently. While state agencies claim they don’t pad their figures, government critics charge them with doing just that, and a close inspection of a few cost estimates only bolsters the case. Should it cost $17,000 for the state to put online a spreadsheet of data it already has? What about $20,000 for a program agency officials say could have been absorbed in-house? Yea, we thought so too.

Read it:
Fiscal follies: Kansas cost estimates draw criticism

money jail

6. Your money, behind bars

How much should Kansas spend to lock up individuals whose only crime is drug related? While lawmakers are struggling to figure out what that figure should be, the reality is that Kansas drops about $42 million annually to keep these men and women in prison. To make matters worse, state law enforcement statistics suggest it’s overwhelmingly because of Kansas continues to wage war against marijuana.

Read it:
Kansas spends millions to keep non-violent drug offenders behind bars

7. Raking-in the dough

Remember the media flurry surrounding the implosion of Hostess, one of America’s most iconic snack food manufacturers? Well here’s something you probably missed. According to the government, former employees were knocked out due to foreign trade pressure, and for that deserve extra benefits above and beyond standard unemployment insurance. But everything uncovered by Kansas Watchdog seems to point to the contrary. Curious? So were we.

Read it:
Former Hostess workers land sweet deal, taxpayers foot bill
Did foreign trade really cause Hostess’ demise?
Couch fire

8. Couch crackdown

If you’re looking for the nuttiest story of the year, look no further. The City ofLawrence, Kansas’ liberal bastion, only months ago brought us the headache-inducing mandate that city residents are not, in fact, capable of policing their own safety. Rather, officials passed a ban on front porch couches, despite the fact that local and nationwide statistics suggest it’s less of an issue than advocates would have folks believe.

Read it:
Kansas community cracks down on couches
Islam Display

9. Islamic fervor

Wichita-area school came under fire earlier this year after students and parents were greeted on the first day of school with a large display outlining the five pillars of the Islamic faith. The matter prompted emotions of all scope and size, and landed the school squarely in the national spotlight.

Read it:
Kansas lawmaker ‘appalled’ by Islamic display in school

10. Counting for attendance

The legislative session is a busy time for any elected official, but some are less (or more) busy than others, it seems. After Kansas lawmakers headed for home in June, Kansas Watchdog took an in-depth peek at how they faired in the preceding months, and what we found was jaw-dropping. In all, seven members of the House of Representatives had missed more votes than all other members of the House combined.

Read it:

Handful of Kansas lawmakers outpace all others for missed votes

Contact Travis Perry at [email protected], or follow him on Twitter at@muckraker62. Like Watchdog.org? Click HERE to get breaking news alerts in YOUR state!

Kansas school spending advocates take to Twitter

A few days ago someone sent me a message on Twitter, regarding something I wrote about Kansas schools.

As Tweets are too brief to discuss the issues, I do so here.

It’s true that state education spending — that portion of total school funding provided by the State of Kansas — has fallen. But total school spending per student is different. It has fallen too, but by much less. That’s because at the same time state spending was falling, local spending remained steady, and federal spending rose.

Kansas school spending per student, adjusted for CPI

The nearby chart (click on it for a larger version) shows the totality of Kansas school spending, according to Kansas State Department of Education. Overall school spending per student, adjusted for inflation, fell for two years. It rose a small amount last year. Spending from all sources, individually and collectively, is much higher than ten years ago. Remember, the figures in the chart are adjusted for inflation.

We’ve increased spending on schools, both in Kansas and across the nation, by huge amounts will little to show in the way of results. This actually ought to give us hope, because if we can eliminate our fixation on spending as the cure for all problems, we can start to seek actual solutions.

Kansas school employment

On the topic of class size: Pupil-teacher ratio is not the same as class size, but it’s the data we have. Also, the story is not the same in every district. But considering the entire state, two trends emerge. For the past two years, the number of teachers employed in Kansas public schools has risen. Correspondingly, the pupil-teacher ratio has fallen.

Kansas school employment ratios

The trend for certified employees is a year behind that of teachers, but for the last year, the number of certified employees has risen, and the ratio to pupils has fallen. This article holds an interactive visualization of this data: Kansas school employment trends are not what you’d expect.

There’s also this to consider about class size. In 2011 the Center for American Progress released a report about class size reduction in schools and the false promise it holds for improving student achievement. While I am normally quite cautious about relying on anything CAP — a prominent left-wing think tank — produces, I’ve read the report, which is titled The False Promise of Class-Size Reduction. It’s accurate.

It’s quite astonishing to see CAP cite evidence from Eric Hanushek of the Hoover Institution and Caroline Hoxby of Stanford and Hoover. These two researchers are usually condemned by the public education establishment and bureaucracy, including teachers unions. These are some of the key constituents CAP usually caters to.

In a nutshell, class size reduction produces very little benefit for students. It’s also very expensive, and there are other things we should be doing instead if we really want to increase student achievement.

The report summarizes the important studies in class size reduction, and it’s accurate, based on the reading I’ve done over the years. The upshot is that there is only one study showing positive results from class size reduction, and that effect was found only among the early grades. The effect decreased after a few years, even though small class sizes were still used.

The report also notes that class size reduction is very expensive to implement. Because it is, the report says we should look to other ways to increase student achievement, such as policies relating to teacher effectiveness: “The emerging consensus that teacher effectiveness is the single most important in-school determinant of student achievement suggests that teacher recruitment, retention, and compensation policies ought to rank high on the list.”

On teacher quality and teacher effectiveness: When Sandi Jacobs of National Council for Teacher Quality appeared in Kansas a few years ago, we learned that Kansas ranks below average on its policies that promote teacher quality.

In the example she illustrated, third graders who had teachers in the top 20 percent of effectiveness for the next three years went from the 50th percentile in performance to the 90th. For students with teachers in the lowest 20 percent for the same period, their performance dropped from the 50th percentile to the 37th percentile. My reporting of that event and an audio recording is at Kansas ranks low in policies on teacher quality.

Kansas unemployment, the credit or blame

The unemployment rate in Kansas dropped from 6.2 percent to 5.9 percent in September. Before figuring who to credit for this, we ought to take a look at the underlying trends.

Kansas Governor Sam Brownback was quick to take credit, issuing the tweet “KS unemployment rate dropped to 5.9% in Sept. lowest rate since Dec. ’08.”

Jason Perkey, who is Executive Director of the Kansas Democratic Party, wanted to give the credit to President Barack Obama, as can be seen in his tweet.

Looking at the numbers behind the unemployment number, however, reveals something that I don’t think either party wants credit for: a shrinking labor force.

Todd Davidson of Kansas Policy Institute took a close look at the numbers that go into forming the unemployment rate, and here’s what he found: “The drop did not come from higher employment. 7,819 fewer Kansans were employed in September 2012 than in September 2011. The unemployment rate is lower because over 20,000 Kansans dropped out of the labor force over the last year.” More details are at Taking a Closer Look at the September Unemployment Rate.

Graphically, here’s what the situation looks like. The number of people in the Kansas labor force has been declining. When the number of employed takes a slight uptick, the unemployment rate can decline by a fairly large amount. But it’s not part of an encouraging trend.

Sedgwick County updates agenda information system

Recently Sedgwick County implemented a new system for making its commission agendas and accompanying background material available online.

Previously, only the agenda itself was available online. Agendas contain just a brief description of each item to be handled at meetings. If citizens wanted more information about an item, they had to travel to the courthouse to obtain a printed copy of the agenda report. This document, which might be several hundred pages in length, contains detailed information about each item. It’s the type of information that citizens need if they are to be informed about the matters the commission will consider at each meeting.

The new system makes this information available online. It also handles the minutes and video of past meetings. You can access the system through the Sedgwick County website. Navigate to the County Commission page (the drop-down box at the top right is easy and always available.) Then in the stack of links at the right of the screen, click on Commission Meetings.

Now if you click on any meeting on or after August 25, 2010, you’ll be in the new agenda system.

Using the new system, I found that it took a few moments to become familiar with the way the system organizes the agenda information. Once you get used to it, you can move around the agenda and examine supporting documents easily. Background material is usually presented in small chunks as pdf documents, and it’s easy to print just the few pages that you might be interested in.

The system also allows the public to enter comments, presumably to be read by commissioners or staff before meetings. In a nod to social media and other networks, you can share agenda items on Facebook, Twitter, and other systems. (Sample tweet: PURCHASE OF REAL PROPERTY LOCATED AT SECOND STREET AND ST. FRANCIS IN WICHITA, KANSAS. Presented by: Ron Holt, bff. http://t.co/gl22l3U)

Besides the public face of the system, it will also be used internally by county staff and commissioners to handle agenda paperwork more efficiently.

A fact sheet on the new agenda information system promotes its cost savings, estimated to be $15 per week in reduced usage of paper. The benefit to citizens, however, is access to agenda background information without making a trip to the courthouse. These trips were necessary, as my several recent requests to have background information emailed to me were always declined.

While this system may save $15 per week in paper, it was undoubtedly an expensive system to purchase and implement. According to a county budget document, the five-year cost of this project is $142,594. That doesn’t include internal resources devoted to this project and its ongoing support.

Its goals are more ambitions than what was required to provide citizens with the agenda background information, which was the one area where Sedgwick County was deficient. Many governments, such as the city of Wichita, have made this information available by simply posting the entire agenda report. That’s a simple solution that has worked, although not with all the functionality that the new Sedgwick county system provides.

RightOnline in Las Vegas this week

Later this week the RightOnline Conference takes place in Las Vegas, Nevada.

This is the third year for this conference. It’s held at the same time — and in the same city — as the Netroots Nation. Or NutRoots, take your pick.

The event features a lot of training and some great speakers. Michele Bachmann will headline the Friday dinner, and the Saturday general session features speakers like Andrew Napolitano, Mike Pence, Robert McDowell, Herman Cain, Erick Erickson, and John Fund.

RightOnline is sponsored by the Americans for Prosperity Foundation. Click on Podcast: Erik Telford Previews the RightOnline Conference to hear an interview with AFP’s Erik Telford. To keep up on Twitter, the hasthag is #ro10.

Articles of Interest

Capitalism, CFL bulbs, green indoctrination, bailout constitutionality, Facebook, Twitter

‘The Road to Serfdom’ revisited: Markets display uncertainty over future of capitalism itself (Scott S. Powell in the Washington Times) Discussion of how government interventionism in the economy is not helping. “President Eisenhower called it ‘creeping socialism.’ Nobel Prize winner Friedrich von Hayek called it ‘The Road to Serfdom.'”

Do New Bulbs Save Energy if They Don’t Work? (New York Times) Many customers are not happy with compact fluorescent light bulbs. Short life for the expensive bulbs is a common irritation.

‘Green Hell’ Coming Soon to a Life Like Yours (Human Events) A review of a new book that merits reading. “Be prepared the next time your child comes home from school with some nice ‘green’ project or attempts to lecture you about how you ‘should’ be doing more ‘sustainable’ activities to ‘save’ the Earth. You will be ready to confront teachers, political leaders, neighbors, and annoying aunts with the astounding new book by Steve Milloy titled Green Hell: How Environmentalists Plan to Control Your Life and What You Can Do to Stop Them.”

Bailing Out of the Constitution (George Will in the Washington Post) Is the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 — that’s the $700 billion bailout of banks from last year — constitutional? Perhaps it isn’t, argues Will. It has to do with the Vesting Clause of Article I says, “All legislative powers herein granted shall be vested in” Congress.

Is Facebook Growing Up Too Fast? (New York Times) Facebook will soon have 200 million members. All are not happy, evidence being the recent controversy over a redesign of some of its most important aspects. There’s also the “coolness” factor: can kids like a social network that their parents are now using?

When Stars Twitter, a Ghost May Be Lurking (New York Times) “In many cases, celebrities and their handlers have turned to outside writers — ghost Twitterers, if you will — who keep fans updated on the latest twists and turns, often in the star’s own voice. Because Twitter is seen as an intimate link between celebrities and their fans, many performers are not willing to divulge the help they use to put their thoughts into cyberspace. … It is not only celebrities who are forced to look to a team to produce real-time commentary on daily activities; politicians like Ron Paul have assigned staff members to create Twitter posts and Facebook personas. Candidate Barack Obama, as well as President Obama, has a social-networking team to keep his Twitter feed tweeting.”

Articles of Interest

Journalism, crime alerts, war on drugs, minimum wage, stimulus and education

The State of the Fourth Estate (Jordan Ballor at the Acton Institute) What will happen to journalism in the digital age? The article describes its importance to a free society, with reflection from a Christian view.

Alert system tells you when a crime occurs (Stan Finger in the Wichita Eagle) Receive email or text messages alerts concerning crime in your area by signing up at www.citizenobserver.com. Maybe criminals will start using Twitter to tweet about their escapes, making it easier for police to capture them. While email and text messages are fine, this is a good application for Twitter, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see this service expanded to include Twitter.

From the Trenches of the Drug War: A Street Cop’s Perspective (The Future of Freedom Foundation) Speaking of crime … what is the true cost of the war on drugs? Lessons from the front.

Raising BC’s minimum wage: Good intentions, bad policy (The Frazer Institute) As we in Kansas appear ready to raise our state’s minimum wage — with good intentions (I wonder about that sometimes) — consider the well-known unintended consequences: “The most damaging consequence of minimum wage increases is that employers respond by reducing the number of workers they employ and/or the number of hours their employees work. In other words, minimum wage increases result in higher unemployment for low-skilled workers and young people. This unpleasant reality is well documented in the research.”

Spec. Ed. Stimulus Money Raising Cautions (Education Week) Managing the use of stimulus money may be tricky: “Within the next few weeks, though, the federal tap will open up, releasing an extra $6.1 billion for districts to use for special education, with another $6.1 billion to come later this year. … Though grateful for the largess, school leaders face restrictions with that money. The rules governing the use of federal special education money mean that it’s unwise for districts to use the added funding to start new programs or hire new teachers. If they were to do so, districts would have to continue to pay for those costs in two years, when the federal infusion goes away, under a provision in the IDEA that requires districts to avoid making large cuts in programs from year to year.” What should the money be spent on? Professional development is one recommendation mentioned.

Pew Internet and American Life Project Redesign

The Pew Internet & American Life Project has redesigned their website. This organization has been a valuable source of information about the Internet and how people are using it.

As an example, here are some of their recent research reports:

Twitter and status updating: “As of December 2008, 11% of online American adults said they used a service like Twitter or another service that allowed them to share updates about themselves or to see the updates of others.”

Adults and Social Network Websites: “The share of adult internet users who have a profile on an online social network site has more than quadrupled in the past four years — from 8% in 2005 to 35% at the end of 2008.”

When Technology Fails: “Half (48%) of tech users need help from others in getting new devices and services to work, and many experience tech outages when there is a glitch with their home internet connection, computer, or cell phone.”

Articles of Interest

Subsidizing Bad Ideas What are some of the things wrong with the president’s plan to solve the mortgage crisis? Howie Rich of Americans For Limited Government explains: “First, the plan is emblematic of America’s new “dependence mentality,” which is advanced by politicians like Obama who rhetorically extol the virtues that once made this country great while they systematically remove brick-by-brick the incentives needed to make it great once again. Second, it’s more of the same smoke-and-mirrors Washington politicians employ to hide the true coming-and-goings of your tax dollars in our nation’s capital. Third, it rewards many of the same financial institutions whose mistakes have helped bring this nation to the brink of fiscal ruin – and incentivizes them to make those same mistakes all over again.”

Judging Obama John Stossel explains some of the problems in judging the success of failure of President Obama’s economic interventions, and who should get the credit or blame.

Obama Gives Failing Schools a Pass: The day of reckoning has arrived — except for teachers’ unions (Chester E. Finn Jr. & Michael J. Petrilli in National Review). “This is classic Obama, straddling the Democratic divide on education, just as he did so deftly during the campaign, striving to placate both the reformers within the party and the union bosses. … It’s no accident that our schools aren’t producing enough well-educated graduates; that’s because the system has been designed to place the needs of adults over the needs of kids. But saying any of that would put him at odds with the education establishment, which he doesn’t appear to want to cross.” More indication that President Obama will not implement any meaningful education reform.

Zoomdweebie’s builds success on Twitter (Wichita Eagle). A Wichita business uses social media like Twitter to boost business.

The Government’s War on Recession. Lew Rockwell explains some of the problems and dangers with the way the Obama administration is attacking the problems with the economy: “The economics of stimulus are not as complicated. They amount to taking from some and giving to others. There is no wealth creation at all. There is no magic ‘multiplier’ to turn stones into bread. The economics of stimulus is value-destroying, because property is pried loose from owners who are putting it to socially useful purposes, and given to government so it can pass it out to friends. This process is costly to overall wealth production — and most of those costs are unseen. We will never know what kind of real stimulus could have taken place had the property been left in private hands. What jobs might have been created, what investments might have been made, what kind of business expansions might have taken place? We will never know.”

Kansas Jackass spotted at Kansas days

Through several methods, including excessive tweeting and plain old gumshoe work, the identity of the anonymous blogger Kansas Jackass was deduced. One tweet by the Jackass told me that the blogger would be entering the event hall at Kansas Days in a few minutes. I waited by the door and had a conversation with the Jackass.

Follow Me on Twitter. I’ll follow you.

Some people have asked if I’m on Twitter, and the answer is yes. Here’s a link to my Twitter profile, from where you can choose to follow me.

I don’t use Twitter as much as a lot of people do. I don’t have a mobile device like a Blackberry. I have a regular old-fashioned cell phone. (Isn’t is funny to think of a plain cellular telephone as old-fashioned, even quaint?) So I just update from my computer.

What I mostly do on Twitter is to post titles and urls to new blog posts. There’s a problem, though. Often the title of the post plus the post’s url are over 140 characters long, the limit for Twitter. But, Twitter reduces long urls to short ones using tinyurl, and usually the title plus the short url are well within the 140 character limit. But, Twitter doesn’t know that, so it won’t accept the post. I’ve reported this to Twitter, and they’re thinking about it. Such are the issues of software engineering and programming.

Update: Why didn’t I think of his on my own? Just use tinyurl.com to create your own short urls. Even simpler, the Firefox addin “TinyURL Creator” makes this process quite simple.

Defending the American Dream, or RightOnline in Austin 2008

I just returned from Austin, Texas, attending a conference put on by Americans For Prosperity partnering with Sam Adams Alliance, Heritage Foundation, Leadership Institute, and Media Research Center. Thank you to my friend Erik Telford for inviting me to this conference.

We had some great speakers. Robert Novak is a favorite person of mine. I devoured his autobiography The Prince of Darkness: 50 Years Reporting in Washington last year. He told us that he believes the Republicans will lose seats in both houses of Congress, but the presidency can be won. Also: “I like Ron Paul (cheers)…but not for President” (Thanks, Nic Hall, for reminding me of this.)

I always like listening to Tim Phillips, president of Americans For Prosperity. He told us it’s important to let the few “good guys” in government know that we stand behind them, and conferences like this are one way to do that.

Stephen Moore of the Wall Street Journal told us, and it is reported today in the opinion piece Their Fair Share that Americans with income above the median paid 97.1% of all income taxes. Barack Obama doesn’t think that’s enough. This reminded me that we have two classes of people in America: tax payers, and tax consumers. Regarding the death tax: “No taxation without respiration.”

Steve Lonegan of AFP in New Jersey has an inspiring life story about overcoming blindness as a young adult. The state wanted him to become a client and go to vocational training (to be a basket weaver, he said), but instead he earned an MBA degree.

Grover Norquist: “The left are not friends. The are a band of competing parasites.” Also: “Republicans who raise taxes are rat heads in Coke bottles.”

Michelle Malkin is an inspiration to me. Did you know, I believe she said, that Gen. Wesley Clark whines about the “right wing freak machine”?

Bob Barr, the Libertarian party candidate for president, spoke at a reception. One of his topics? How he introduced the articles of impeachment against Bill Clinton. This is inspiring? Although he did say “Libertarianism lies in the heart of every American.”

It’s always interesting to me to see how these speakers are different in person from when they’re on television. My friend Maggie Thurber at Thurber’s Thoughts has some more good remarks on the speakers.

A few things that I learned:

It takes a long time to drive from Wichita to Austin! And, at a time when some are urging a return to the 55 mph speed limit, I saw little observation of the current 70 mph speed limit. Even when I drove for a while at 75 mph, people passed me like I was standing still.

Why is the term changing from “global warming” to “climate change”?

Ask readers to take action on your blog. Then, after taking action — maybe making a telephone call or writing an email — have readers write a comment about it so others can learn what happened.

I learned more about media bias and how to spot it.

One speaker said that the combined circulation of small newspapers is equal to the circulation of large newspapers.

Personally, I reconnected with some blogger friends that I first met at Samsphere in Chicago earlier this year, a friend I had met at Mises University last year, plus some Facebook “friends” who I had never met in person.

I also got a glimpse at the power of Twitter combined with a mobile device like a Blackberry. I may have to get one.

I had thought I would be able to produce an abbreviated Kansas Blog Roundup on Friday, but with all the activity, I didn’t have time.