Tag Archives: Wichita city council

Wichita City Council Candidate James Barfield Addresses Activists

At Monday’s combined meeting of Campaign For Liberty and Hope For America Coalition, candidate for the Wichita city council district 1 seat James Barfield spoke to the 40 or so activists who gathered.

“Wichita has a gang problem. A legalized gang operating at 455 N. Main. It’s time for a gang intervention.”

He went on to remark that government was not designed to take private tax dollars and bail out private enterprise. But that’s what our local city government is doing. Government takes money from taxpayers and gives it to developers, he said. “I despise people who think they can come to the public trough.”

Barfield believes that Wichita city council members are in the pockets of developers, and the taxpayers pay for that. He told the crowd “We don’t have a voice. We have little say in what they do.”

Wichita Election Coverage Launched

With the March 3 primary election for Wichita city council and school board seats fast approaching, I’ve started a special page of coverage. The page contains links to news stories and candidate websites. If you are aware of news stories or candidate websites that I’ve missed, please send them to me by email at [email protected].

The link to the page is Wichita City and School District Candidate Websites and News Coverage.

More Subsidy for Downtown Wichita Developers

Today’s Wichita Eagle reports that Wichita’s “Minnesota Guys,” formally known as Real Development, are seeking yet another subsidy as they work in downtown Wichita. The article in the Eagle is HUD loan sought for downtown Wichita apartment plan.

In this case, the subsidy sought is a loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Some readers say that a loan guarantee is not really a subsidy, as the government isn’t lending or giving Real Development any money. But it’s a subsidy nonetheless.

A loan guarantee will let Real Development borrow at a lower interest rate than it could without the guarantee. That is a benefit that pays off year after year, as long as the loan is in effect. It also puts the United States taxpayer at risk, as if Real Development defaults on the loan, the U.S. Treasury must pay.

Judging the risk of default for this loan is difficult. But if this application is approved, we’re stuck with this risk.

The development receiving this subsidy has also received other subsidies, according to the Eagle: “They got the city of Wichita to agree to spend $3 million to buy Exchange Place and the Bitting Building, and give it to them. The city is also committed to spend up to $6.2 million for a parking deck along Douglas.”

When the Minnesota Guys came to town a few years ago, they didn’t ask for subsidy, at least according to my research. I wrote to them, commending their position and asking why. Quoting from my letter: “If, as I believe, you have not sought help from our local government, I salute you, and I am very interested as to why.” No one responded to my query.

We can now confidently place Real Development in the crony capitalist column. Its principals — Michael Elzufon and David Lundberg — have become adept at working the halls of government power for taxpayer subsidy. The danger that Wichita faces is that since these developments are built with capital raised from politicians rather than markets, their roots are shallow.

Prudence Requires Postponement of Wichita TIF District: The Video

Bob Weeks recommends postponing approval of a Wichita TIF district until new procedures are put in place. Plus, a question about future mill levies, with a response from council member Sharon Fearey. The remarks in printed form are at this link: Prudence Requires Postponement of Wichita TIF District.

Prudence Requires Postponement of Wichita TIF District

Remarks to be delivered to the Wichita City Council on January 6, 2009.

Mr. Mayor, members of the council:

Last month it was discovered that procedures used to investigate the background of potential city business partners were lacking in some respects. It is now recognized that the process that were in place failed to give city council members information that they needed in order to make a fully-informed decision about the desirability of partnering with a certain development firm.

Today the council is facing a similar situation. As with the previous case, the TIF district itself has already been approved. Now the actual project plan is before you.

Also as with the case last month, these developers made application under the vetting process that this council has now realized was faulty.

To my knowledge, no one has made any allegations that the developers before you today have problems like those that caused the postponement of the project in December. But since these developers applied for and were approved for TIF financing under a system that is now recognized as flawed, we really don’t know.

There is one thing in particular I would like to know: The developers have been asked to agree to what the city calls a “Tax Increment Shortfall Guaranty.” It seems to me that this guaranty is only as good as the financial condition of the guarantor. Has the city examined financial statements of Reverend Harding and his partners, in order to determine whether they have the financial capacity to make good on this commitment, if it becomes necessary?

I think the citizens of Wichita would sleep better at night if these developers would go through the new qualification process that the city is preparing. It’s been reported that this new process will be ready soon. Mr. Mayor, why don’t we wait a month or two and investigate these developers under the new process that is presently being developed? Then the citizens of Wichita can have confidence in this council and the project the taxpayers have been asked to subsidize.

Mr. Mayor and members of the council, there’s another issue that I’d like to call your attention to. That’s the possibility that the city or county — perhaps both — might decide to raise their sales tax rates in exchange for lowering the property tax mill levy. If that were to happen, what would be the impact on TIF districts? The assumptions used in the projection for this TIF district assume that the mill levy in future years is the same as it is today. But if either the city or county were to reduce or eliminate its mill levy, it seems that this — and other — TIF districts would not generate enough property tax to service their debt.

Wichita city hall: more evidence of lax procedures

Wichita Eagle reporting from yesterday (Past client: Developer admitted embezzling) provides more evidence of the need for improved procedures and greater accountability at Wichita city hall. In this story, investigative journalist Dion Lefler reports that Grant Gaudreau admitted stealing money from a business partner. This comes to light just after the City of Wichita nearly became a business partner with Gaudreau.

Past articles on this website and in the Wichita Eagle (Wichita’s Faulty Due Diligence, Sharon Fearey Doesn’t Appreciate the Wichita Eagle, Wichita TIF Developer’s Ownership Restructuring not Very Reassuring, and Wichita City Council: Put Better Procedures in Place Before Proceeding) document the specifics. But a few new developments and questions have arisen.

First, it’s been reported that Gaudreau has a warrant for failure to pay $12,332 in income tax. I asked Wichita police chief Norman Williams if Gaudreau was subject to arrest because of this warrant. He said yes, he is.

Second, it’s unclear whether Joe Kramer and Len Marotte of the real estate firm Joel LLC were aware of the entire scope of Gaudreau’s problems when they teamed with him to develop the Renaissance Square project. It’s clear, however, that they knew a lot. Their business judgment must be questioned.

Mayor Carl Brewer asked city staff to develop new procedures for vetting potential partners. The problem is that city hall is occupied with some transitions. A new city manager will start work in just about a month. The assistant city manager (now the interim manager) has been looking elsewhere for jobs, and given the mayor’s public treatment of him, I think he’s smart to do so. Three council seats are up for election in the March primary. The city botched a public hearing, but calls it “leadership.”

My recommendation is that the City of Wichita stop participating in public/private partnerships. Instead, work on improving the business climate for everyone, across the entire city. But when the city considers partnering with someone, I recommend that the city hire an outside firm to conduct an independent investigation of potential partners. This is how we can have confidence in the procedures the city is developing.

Wichita’s naysayers shortchanged again

At the December 2, 2008 meeting of the Wichita city council, three citizens spoke to the council on the same issue. The treatment these people received in the official minutes of the proceedings varied quite a bit.

At the meeting, Jeff Fluhr of the Wichita Downtown Development Corporation spoke in favor of action the city was contemplating. John Todd and I spoke against the action. The difference in the treatment given to each party in the minutes of the meeting is evidence of bias in the city’s attitude towards its citizens. Yes, the mayor and others thank us for our participation. But I don’t know if they really mean it.

I measured the length of each citizen’s talk, and counted the number of words of coverage received in the minutes. Here’s the results:

Jeff Fluhr: 1:08 minutes, 95 words.
John Todd: 4:04 minutes, 72 words.
Bob Weeks (me): 3:49 minutes, 13 words. About half of those words were my name and address.

What is the reason for this discrepancy? Does the position taken by each speaker have any effect? It seems so, as a similar situation took place in August, described in Wichita’s Naysayers Shortchanged in Council’s Record.

Perhaps the City of Wichita needs to do what the Board of Sedgwick County Commissioners does, which is to provide a verbatim transcript of each word spoken by everyone at the meeting. But that seems to generate its own problems and delays. As of today, minutes are available for meetings through November 12. For meetings after that date, minutes are not ready, at least on the county’s website. (The county prepares a short review of each meeting, and these are ready perhaps a week or so after each meeting.)

The minutes of this meeting are available here. Video of each citizen’s talk is available on YouTube: Jeff Fluhr, John Todd, and Bob Weeks.

Kansas law requires Wichita to hold another public hearing

Recently, the Wichita city council passed a resolution announcing a public hearing on a TIF district and its project plan. The city then, on the day before the hearing, substantially changed the plan. This change means that the city must hold another public hearing.

Kansas statute 12-1772 says in paragraph (c)(3)(f) that substantial changes to the project plan require a new public hearing. The changes the Wichita city council made less than 24 hours before the public hearing nearly doubled the planned spending. Further, the new spending is of a different character. These are substantial changes that require a new public hearing.

This post on my blog, which was printed as an op-ed in the Wichita Eagle, explains the situation: Wichita TIF Public Hearing Was Bait and Switch.

Others agree that there were changes to the plan. Randy Brown argued for another public hearing (Randy Brown: Reopen Downtown Wichita Arena TIF Public Hearing). The Wichita Eagle’s Rhonda Holman noticed the problems with the Wichita city council’s action (The Process Should Be Most Important). Interim Wichita City Manager Scott Moore acknowledges defects in the process (Wichita Public Hearing Action Not Evidence of Leadership).

Citizens can’t have trust and confidence in government when business is conducted this way. This action, along with another high-profile breakdown in the processes at city hall (Wichita City Hall Confusion Leads to Evaporation of Confidence), should chasten the city to move cautiously and with due regard to process and respect for citizens. Holding another public hearing on the expansion of the Center City South Redevelopment District, commonly known as the downtown Wichita arena TIF district, would let the city start the process of regaining the trust of its citizens.

Sharon Fearey doesn’t appreciate the Wichita Eagle

At the December 16, 2008 meeting of the Wichita City Council, Sharon Fearey expressed her displeasure with reporting done by the Wichita Eagle.

In this clip, she mentions the Wichita Eagle reporting of the history of Grant Gaudreau. Fearey implies that the Eagle knew that he had been removed from the Renaissance Square project over a month ago. But just two weeks ago, Allen Bell, development director for the City of Wichita, referred to Gaudreau as “principal developer.” So Fearey’s accounting of the facts isn’t even close to Bell’s.

Is there a communications breakdown at city hall? It seems obvious.

“Thank You, Wichita Eagle”

Mustering all the sarcasm she can, Sharon Fearey says “Thank you, Wichita Eagle.”

Speaking from the bench at the December 16, 2008 meeting of the Wichita City Council, she’s referring to reporting that newspaper did that uncovered problems in the past of the person referred to as the principal developer of a project.

Wichita city council member Fearey simply does not understand the concerns of the citizens of Wichita. Combined with her tasteless joke a few weeks ago (see Sharon Fearey’s Bad Joke for video), Wichitans can be thankful that term limits are bringing an end to her time on the city council.

I and most of the citizens of Wichita are truly thankful for the reporting the Wichita Eagle has done on this matter.

Wichita City Council: Put better procedures in place before proceeding

Remarks that may be delivered to the Wichita City Council at its meeting today.

Update from city council chambers: The proposal has been withdrawn for now, so I won’t be delivering these remarks.

Mr. Mayor and members of the council, developments surrounding the Renaissance Square project in the C.O.R.E. Redevelopment District are unfolding so rapidly that we need to step back and think about the wisdom of proceeding with the current plans. As things stand now, citizens can have little confidence in this project and the way the city has handled it.

For example, we’re told that a new entity, Joel Associates, LLC, has been formed to develop this project. Now, what type of investigation has been performed on this new corporation? Do we have its financial statements, and statements for its principals? Does this corporation or its principals have the financial resources to back up the guaranty the city asks them to provide? How much did Joel Associates, LLC pay Grant Gaudreau for his ownership interest in ICDC, LLC?

I would submit that a little shuffling of the ownership structure of the project is hardly assurance to Wichitans that this project is on the up-and-up. Further, what does it say about the judgment and the business acumen of the remaining owners if they thought Mr. Gaudreau’s past would not be uncovered, or when uncovered, would not be perceived as a problem?

Mr. Mayor, members of the council, we have a problem. A noted journalist said this on a public affairs television program last week regarding this project: “This is a project the city has been working on for years, and it was absolutely astonishing to me that in a relatively short period of time I was able to come up with something — I mean, they have a development department, they have a legal department, they have a police department, they have two ex-investigative reporters on staff. So why this came to light literally on the day of the vote was just astonishing to me.”

Reporting in the Wichita Eagle makes it clear that the City of Wichita does not have procedures in place to protect the interests of its citizens. It appears that a citizen wanting to finance an automobile or obtain a credit card is scrutinized more closely than are potential city business partners. Worse, it appears that the city is willing to enter into agreements and extend millions in financing to people who couldn’t get an automobile loan or a credit card. This does not qualify as stewardship of citizens’ resources.

So now the ownership of the business entity behind this project has been restructured to eliminate the developer whose past problems lead to delay. But there’s still a taint on this project. Citizen confidence has evaporated.

As reporting in the Wichita Eagle and my own investigation has revealed, there is no credit available for projects like this. Even if the city council were to approve this project this week, it would likely be some time before the project gets moving.

Time is not of the essence. Let’s wait before proceeding. Given the confusion at Wichita city hall that the Wichita Eagle has reported, citizens can have no confidence in proceeding with any projects like this until better procedures are put in place. Then, we’re not going to take city staff’s word that these procedures are in place, as recent events give us little confidence in its capabilities or judgment. We’ll need some independent confirmation that city staff and council members are to be trusted in matters such as these.

Wichita Public Hearing Action Not Evidence of Leadership

In an op-ed piece in Sunday’s Wichita Eagle, Interim Wichita City Manager Scott Moore makes the case that “the [Wichita city] council’s Dec. 2 vote demonstrated leadership and an ability to respond decisively to urgent community matters after appropriate public deliberations.” (Scott Moore: TIF Parking Change Showed Leadership, December 15, 2008)

Mr. Moore explains the problems with the public hearing that was held on December 2: “However, because of the holiday closure, the revisions did not reach council members until Monday afternoon, Dec. 1, the day before the public hearing. Better staff follow-up during the holiday break would have provided better public notification.”

The revisions referred to are the addition of up to $10 million in TIF funding for parking. To add some precision to Mr. Moore’s accounting, these revisions appeared on the city’s website sometime after 4:30 p.m. This was on the same day that the first version appeared. If someone fetches a document at noon, should they also have to check again later that day to see if the document has been updated? I didn’t. It appears that Wichita Eagle reporters and other news media didn’t either. Why would they?

As Mr. Moore explains earlier in his piece: “Nonetheless, city staff should have revised all documents appropriately so that the correct items could have been submitted to the council and the media and posted at the Web site www.wichita.gov for the public.” Also: “Although the process could have been conducted more openly …”

Mr. Moore and Wichita Eagle editorial writer Rhonda Holman agree that there were defects in the public hearing. (See The Process Should Be Most Important for analysis.) But Mr. Moore goes farther and actually praises Wichita city leaders for their leadership.

This is not leadership. Leaders own their mistakes and accept their consequences. Mr. Moore acknowledges city officials made mistakes, but he and other city officials and council members will not accept ownership. They will not accept the consequences of their mistakes.

Leadership at the December 2, 2008 meeting would have meant city staff or council members apologizing to the public for the last-minute changes to the plan and the defective notice. Leadership would have required a council member making a motion to delay the public hearing until citizens receive proper notice of the actual contents of the plan. Leadership would have required unanimous consent to this motion.

Except for council member Jim Skelton’s questioning, none of these leadership actions took place. Therefore, I must disagree with Mr. Moore’s characterization of city staff and council members as leaders.

No Diligence in Wichita City Hall

Rhonda Holman’s Wichita Eagle editorial today (Need vetting of City Hall partners) correctly states that city staff “missed the mark in vetting negotiator Grant Gaudreau.” Or is the proper title “principal developer,” as stated by Wichita’s director of urban development Allen Bell? (See Wichita’s Faulty Due Diligence for video.)

There’s a lot of confusion over this matter, and times like this let us get a closer look at what’s going on in city hall. We can also learn a lot about the attitudes of government officials and city staff. For example, a Wichita Eagle news story reported this:

“Grant was never a big money player in this,” Fearey said. “He’s always just been the person who had time to come to the city and work through things and also knew a lot about who to go to in the city and how to work the system.”

First, note the disparity between Allen Bell’s “principal developer” and Wichita city council member Sharon Fearey’s “never a big money player.” But what’s really troubling is that Fearey acknowledges that there’s a “system” at city hall that someone knows “how to work.” This doesn’t say a lot for openness and transparency in Wichita city government. It also perpetuates the realization that there’s a network of insiders who know how to milk the halls of government power for their own benefit.

Then, the Eagle news story contains this: “[Wichita Mayor Carl] Brewer said he wants to ensure that developers can complete the project in a reasonable time and that there are no other problems.” If our mayor can figure out some way to eliminate the risks that entrepreneurs take, more power to him. If successful, I might consider voting for him, should he decide to run for re-election.

The fact is, however, that real estate development is a tremendously risky endeavor. Entrepreneurs — people with their own money at stake, with their ears to the ground every day and the experience, power, and discretion to alter plans as the situation dictates — are the people best suited to assume and negotiate this risk. Politicians operate in a different environment with a different set of incentives.

Wichita’s Faulty Due Diligence

In the Wichita city council meeting on December 2, 2008, council member Jim Skelton questioned Allen Bell, Wichita’s director of urban development, about developers the city is considering working with on a TIF district. Specifically, Skelton asked if there was anything in the backgound of the developers that the council should be concerned about. Bell referred specifically to Grant Gaudreau, naming him as the “principal developer.” He said that the matters in Gaudreau’s past had been “resolved,” and had “no bearing” on this project. Video is available below.

According to Wichita Eagle reporting in the story 35 suits in developer’s past, Gaudreau’s past problems include bankruptcy and lawsuits regarding bounced checks and nonpaid bills. The bankruptcy is not troubling to me, as many entrepreneurs suffer through this as part of their acceptance of risk. Bounced checks at the grocery store and pet clinic, plus a recent auto repossession, are troubling. If someone won’t make good the checks they write at the grocery store, that’s a problem. The city should not partner with such a person.

Further, the Eagle story reports that the developer has an outstanding warrant for unpaid taxes in a neighboring county. That would contradict Mr. Bell’s claim that matters have been resolved.

Here’s the problem I have, and I think many citizens share this concern: Either Allen Bell and city staff didn’t know of all these things in Gaudreau’s past, or they knew about them but didn’t think they were a problem. The first case tells us that Mr. Bell’s office is not doing a thorough job. The second case tells us that Mr. Bell’s judgment does not reflect the concerns of the citizens of Wichita. In either case, there’s a problem at city hall.

Wichita and Sedgwick County Agenda Deadlines Are Too Short

Both the City of Wichita and Sedgwick County have policies that limit citizens’ ability to address these bodies on timely matters. Each body requires, effectively, at least one week notice to appear on the public agenda. That’s the part of the meeting where citizens can speak about any topic, not just those matters that are being considered that day.

Here’s an example of how these restrictive deadlines work against citizens. On December 2, John Todd and I spoke at the Wichita city council meeting, as part of a public hearing. As shown in the posts Wichita TIF Public Hearing Was Bait and Switch and Randy Brown: Reopen Downtown Wichita Arena TIF Public Hearing, the public hearing was defective. Further, there’s a time factor involved, in that the city council set in motion a process that must be resolved within 30 days. With the upcoming holidays, time is tight.

So John called the Wichita city clerk, but we can’t get on the agenda for the next city council meeting. By the time we can get on the agenda, it’s nearly too late for the council to take the action we’d like to ask of them.

A reasonable policy is this: When something happens in a meeting one week, there should be time for citizens to get on the public agenda for the next meeting.

The policy of the Wichita City Council is “Members of the public desiring to present matters to the council on the public agenda must submit a request in writing to the office of the city manager prior to twelve noon on the Tuesday preceding the council meeting.”

For Sedgwick County, I wasn’t able to find a policy on its website, but while watching today’s commission meeting on television, chairman Winters asked the public to contact the county manager’s office “at least a week or ten days before our meeting” if they wanted to address the commission.

Note: when an item is on the agenda, citizens usually get to speak about the item. The public agenda is where citizens can speak about items that may or may not be on the meeting’s agenda.

Letters to Wichita City Council and Sedgwick County Commission Regarding Downtown Wichita TIF District

John Todd has prepared letters that we hope will influence local governments regarding the downtown Wichita TIF district. One, to the Wichita City Council, asks them to conduct a proper public hearing. A second letter to the Sedgwick County Commissioners asks them to not consider passing this TIF district until Wichita conducts a proper public hearing. A third is a letter to the Wichita Eagle explaining citizens’ concerns.

If you’d like to sign these letters, please contact John Todd at [email protected]. Here’s the one to the Wichita City Council:

Mayor Carl Brewer
Wichita City Council Members
Wichita City Hall
Wichita, Kansas

Subject: Citizens request for a new and open City Council public hearing before implementing the Center City South Redevelopment TIF District, commonly known as the downtown Wichita arena TIF district.

The December 2, 2008 public hearing as conducted by the Wichita City Council concerning the expansion of the Center City South Redevelopment TIF District was not a true and meaningful public hearing. Therefore, we ask that you withdraw the proposal until a proper public hearing can be held before the City Council. This issue needs to be sent to the District Advisory Boards (DAB) for their review. Wichita citizens in general and DAB boards both need all the details and a complete cost analysis for this TIF district scheme.

Let me refer you to Randy Brown’s letter in the Eagle (see “Reopen TIF issue” Dec. 7), referring to Bob Weeks’ letter in the Eagle (see “TIF public hearing was bait and switch” Dec. 5) that hit the nail on the head by saying, “conducting the public’s business in secret causes citizens to lose respect for government officials and corrupts the process of democracy.” Brown further states, “… we (the people) had a mockery of the public hearing process rather than an open and transparent discussion of a contentious public issue. The Wichita officials involved should publicly apologize, and the issue should be reopened. And this time, the public should be properly notified.”

The citizens of this community deserve open, honest, and transparent government. The Wichita City Council needs to hold a new and open public hearing on this issue before proceeding with the implementation of this project.

Randy Brown: Reopen Downtown Wichita Arena TIF Public Hearing

In a letter in yesterday’s Wichita Eagle, Randy Brown comments on my recent op-ed piece in the same newspaper. He is senior fellow at the Elliott School of Communication at Wichita State University, and also the executive director of the Kansas Sunshine Coalition for Open Government. He’s done a lot to promote openness and transparency in government. His experience as an editorial writer for the Wichita Eagle shows in his use of vividly descriptive language like “under cover of Monday evening’s darkness” and “aggravated assault on its spirit.” I wish I could write like that.

Here’s Randy’s letter:

Reopen TIF issue

I’m fairly well acquainted with Bob Weeks, our extraconservative government watchdog. It’s fair to say that I agree with Weeks no more than one time in every 20 issues. But that one time is crucial to our democracy.

Weeks is dead-on target when he says that conducting the public’s business in secret causes citizens to lose respect for government officials and corrupts the process of democracy (“TIF public hearing was bait and switch,” Dec. 5 Opinion). And that’s what happened when significant 11th-hour changes to the already controversial and questionable tax-increment financing plan for the downtown arena neighborhood were sneaked onto the Wichita City Council’s Tuesday agenda, essentially under cover of Monday evening’s darkness.

This may not have been a technical violation of the Kansas Open Meetings Act, but it was an aggravated assault on its spirit. Among other transgressions, we had a mockery of the public hearing process rather than an open and transparent discussion of a contentious public issue.

The Wichita officials involved should publicly apologize, and the issue should be reopened. And this time, the public should be properly notified.

Randy Brown
Executive director
Kansas Sunshine Coalition for Open Government
Wichita

Sharon Fearey’s Bad Joke

At the Tuesday December 2, 2008 meeting of the Wichita City Council, a property owner was present. This man, owner of the Nifty Nut House, a popular store for nuts and treats, was in front of the council when council member Sharon Fearey asked this question:

“Do we all get free nuts or anything?”

(Laughter from the council and audience.)

“Just kidding! You can’t buy our vote!”

It’s troubling to me when elected officials think things like this are funny. Why was she even thinking of this? The Nifty Nut House has great products. I was thinking about them as I sat in the audience at this meeting. But why did council member Sharon Fearey think it would be funny to suggest that the council members get free nuts?

Incidents like this are why citizens have a poor attitude towards government and its officials.

Wichita TIF public hearing was bait and switch

This appeared in today’s Wichita Eagle.

On Tuesday December 2, 2008, the Wichita City Council held a public hearing on the expansion of the Center City South Redevelopment District, commonly known as the downtown Wichita arena TIF district. As someone with an interest in this matter, I watched the city’s website for the appearance of the agenda report for this meeting. This document, also known as the “green sheets” and often several hundred pages in length, contains background information on items appearing on the meeting’s agenda.

At around 11:30 am Monday, the day before the meeting, I saw that the agenda report was available. I download it and printed the few pages of interest to me.

At the meeting Tuesday morning, I was surprised to hear council member Jim Skelton expressed his dismay that a change to the TIF plan wasn’t included in the material he printed and took home to read. This change, an addition of up to $10,000,000 in spending on parking, is material to the project. It’s also controversial, and if the public had known of this plan, I’m sure that many speakers would have attended the public hearing.

But the public didn’t have much notice of this controversial change to the plan. Inspection of the agenda report document — the version that contains the parking proposal — reveals that it was created at 4:30 pm on Monday. I don’t know how much longer after that it took to be placed on the city’s website. But we can conclude that citizens — and at least one city council member — didn’t have much time to discuss and debate the desirability of this parking plan.

The news media didn’t have time, either. Reporting in the Wichita Eagle on Monday and Tuesday didn’t mention the addition of the money for parking.

This last-minute change to the TIF plan tells us a few things. First, it reveals that the downtown arena TIF plan is a work in progress, with major components added on-the-fly just a few days before the meeting. That alone gives us reason to doubt its wisdom. Citizens should demand that the plan be withdrawn until we have sufficient time to discuss and deliberate matters as important as this. What happened on Tuesday doesn’t qualify as a meaningful public hearing on the actual plan. A better description is political bait and switch.

Second, when the business of democracy is conducted like this, citizens lose respect for both the government officials involved and the system itself. Instead of openness and transparency in government, we have citizens and, apparently, even elected officials shut out of the process.

Third, important questions arise: Why was the addition of the parking plan not made public until the eleventh hour? Was this done intentionally, so that opponents would not have time to prepare, or to even make arrangements to attend the meeting? Or was it simple incompetence and lack of care?

The officials involved — council members Jeff Longwell and Lavonta Williams, who negotiated the addition of the parking with county commissioners; Allen Bell, who is Wichita’s director of urban development; and Mayor Carl Brewer — need to answer to the citizens of Wichita as to why this important business was conducted in this haphazard manner that disrespects citizen involvement.

Additional coverage:
Wichita TIF Districts Mean Central Government Planning
Downtown Wichita Arena TIF District Testimony
Jim Skelton is Frustrated
Downtown Wichita Arena TIF District Still a Bad Idea
Wichita Mayor and City Council Prefer to Work Out of Media Spotlight
Wichita’s Naysayers Are Saying Yes to Liberty
Tiff over Wichita TIFs
Downtown Wichita Arena TIF District
Do Wichita TIF Districts Create Value?
Wichita City Council’s Misunderstanding of Tax Increment Financing
Tax Increment Financing in Wichita Benefits Few
Tax Increment Financing in Iowa