Tag Archives: Wichita city council

Cornejo & Sons campaign contributions history

A recent Wichita Eagle news story jogged readers’ memories about the company that’s the target of the story, Cornejo & Sons, Inc., and their campaign contributions a few years back. The company asked some of its employees to make campaign contributions, and then the employees were reimbursed. That’s illegal.

A Wichita Eagle story from April 27, 2003 states: “A former administrative assistant for the Cornejo & Sons construction firm says company executives sought campaign donations from employees and then walked around the office illegally reimbursing workers with stacks of $50 and $100 bills.”

In this story, Ron Cornejo, the company president, denied the making the reimbursements.

But two days later the Eagle reported: “The president of Cornejo & Sons admitted Monday that the construction firm reimbursed employees who donated money to pro-landfill candidates for Wichita mayor and Sedgwick County Commission — a practice that violates state law. Company president Ron Cornejo issued a statement saying that he and his company are cooperating with state ethics investigators and gathering data on the contributions that were made by the employees in 2002 and 2003.”

The next day Sedgwick County District Attorney Nola Foulston announced the launching of a criminal investigation.

On August 21, 2003, according to Eagle reporting, “the state ethics commission fined Wichita-based Cornejo & Sons Inc. $15,000.” An Eagle editorial called this “a slap on the wrist.”

All candidates who received the money — a mix of Wichita mayoral, city council, and Sedgwick county commission candidates, one still in office — were cleared of any wrongdoing by the ethics commission. I couldn’t find any news stories about the result of the DA’s investigation, so I inquired at the office. But it appears that no charges were ever filed.

It’s thought that the contributions were supporting Cornejo’s substantial contracts with the City of Wichita, and also the company’s effort to gain approval to build a landfill near Furley. The construction landfill that’s the subject of the recent Eagle article wasn’t mentioned as the motivating factor for these contributions.

YMCA – Wichita conflict of interest

A local non-profit organization, held in high esteem, seeks to purchase property owned by the City of Wichita. So what’s the problem?

During his State of the City address for 2009, Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer revealed his plan for a partnership between the city and the YMCA. So far this partnership has revealed itself in the city’s plan to sell some city-owned land at First and Waco Streets to the YMCA.

Council members Jeff Longwell and Sharon Fearey were appointed to represent the city in negotiations.

The problem is that Longwell is a member of the advisory board for the northwest branch YMCA. This is possibly a conflict of interest. It certainly is the appearance of a conflict of interest, and for that reason, Longwell should step away from the negotiations.

At the same time, the YMCA should request that Longwell be replaced with another council member.

I’m not accusing the YMCA of any wrongdoing.

I’m also not accusing council member Longwell of any wrongdoing.

But I’ve talked to several elected officials and many citizens about this, and only one has thought there wasn’t a problem with this arrangement.

This is especially confounding to me in that I’m sure there is probably no actual conflict of interest — at least as these things go — but its appearance is beyond doubt in the minds of most citizens.

A representative of the YMCA told me that the board Longwell serves on is an advisory board with no decision-making authority.

I asked Longwell if he could understand how people might think there is a conflict of interest, and he said he could appreciate that position. He added that’s why there is more than one city council member representing the city, and, of course, it takes four votes on the council to take any action.

Furthermore, he told me that he was out of town and missed a meeting, so he hasn’t been present at the negotiations.

I’ve talked with several people who have reminded me of the good things the YMCA does for Wichita and the surrounding area.

So why can’t the YMCA and the city conduct these negotiations in a way that eliminates even the slightest whiff of any appearance of a conflict of interest?

People are wondering, especially when it is likely that the land will be sold for much less than what some believe it to be worth.

Wichita election watch parties

There isn’t a whole lot of interest in today’s primary elections in Wichita. None of the school board races had enough candidates to require a primary. Two of the three city council races did, but probably the only district where’s there’s any doubt as to the outcome (at least as far as who will advance to the general election) is district 6, which features Janet Miller, Bob Aldrich, Ken Thomas, and Damon Isaacs. Here’s information about two election night parties that I know of:

Bob Aldrich: Tuesday, March 3rd at the Wichita Area Builders Association building 730 North Main Street (parking in rear), starting at 6:00PM. Link to Google map.

Ken Thomas: Tuesday, March 3rd, starting at 6:00PM at Caffe Moderne, 300 N. Mead, Suite 108, Old Town Square Wichita (Behind Rock Paper Scissors). Link to Google map.

You can get more information about these candidates by clicking on Wichita City and School District Candidate Websites and News Coverage.

Wichita Residential Property Tax Relief Requested

Following are remarks that Wichita businessman Craig Gabel delivered to the February 10, 2009 meeting of the Wichita city council. I think Gabel’s idea has some merit. One thing I don’t quite understand is his proposal for “a credit on each residential property owners’ tax statement.” I will ask him for clarification as to how this would work. More information about the Proposition K that Gabel refers to can be found here.

After Gabel spoke, council member Paul Gray expressed the desire to start discussions on this matter now that the new city manager is in place. Mayor Carl Brewer expressed concern about the benefits and long-term impact of Proposition K. Gray pointed out to Brewer that some of the cities the mayor thinks Wichita should emulate have lower property taxes than we do, but at the cost of higher sales tax. In this exchange, it seems that the mayor realizes that higher taxes are bad for business — at least the aircraft business.

Here are Gabel’s remarks and the video of his presentation:

I come before you today to ask you to place a 1% sales tax ordinance, on the April City election Ballot, for city of Wichita residential property tax relief. I am not asking you to reduce mill levies or limit your ability to fund City budgets.

I ask that we give voters an opportunity to vote on a 1% sales tax that would show as a credit on each residential property owners’ tax statement. In addition in your packet you can find an outline for a property tax relief known as Proposition K. It calls for a freeze on property values, and an annual increase of 2%, for our purposes we are only dealing with residential properties.

The people of our great city are ready for this change. I have talked to literally thousands of people in Wichita and Sedgwick County and this subject is foremost on their minds. The reasons are many. Some are senior citizens that have seen virtually no income growth over the past decade. Most are working age adults that have seen a meager 30% increase in income while appraised values have increased 100% and property taxes have seen a 97% increase. All are ready to share the burden of the cost of local government.

There are several other advantages that make this proposal extremely attractive.

  • With property values possibly decreasing due to the economic crisis, this would stabilize the City tax base.
  • The 2% annual increase would allow for limited budget growth and cost of living increases.
  • Homeowners would be more inclined to make home improvements, thus stimulating the local housing market and getting contractors back to work.
  • Laid-off workers would see some small relief on their home mortgages as a result.

Finally in addition to asking you for this property tax relief I am scheduled to ask the Sedgwick County Commissioners for the same relief at the County level on Wed Feb. 18.

Other news coverage can be found here:
Wichita Council Wants To Discuss Sales Tax Verses Property Tax (KWCH Television)
Wichita to discuss new sales tax to reduce property tax (Wichita Eagle)

Health and Wellness Coalition of Wichita Asks Candidates a few Questions

Note to raders: I made an error in the original article when I relied on a source’s representation that these questions came from the YMCA. They are actually from the Health and Wellness Coalition of Wichita. The YMCA is just one of several dozen members of this group.

Here are the questions asked of candidates:

  • Describe the connection between the built environment and community health.
  • What is city government’s role in creating a more pedestrian/bike friendly environment?
  • How can a city get engaged in promoting healthy eating?

The last question is especially troublesome.

Wichita Center City South TIF Changes Slip Through

At the December 16, 2008 meeting of the Wichita City Council, a major revision to the development plan of a downtown Wichita TIF district was made. This TIF district is a project of Real Development, whose principals Michael Elzufon and David Lundberg are commonly known as the “Minnesota Guys.”

The changes to this plan were not made in secret, but the document describing them was buried in the 675-page agenda report (or “green sheets”) for that meeting. These changes escaped the notice of any local news media (at least my searches show no stories being reported), including the Wichita Eagle and Wichita Business Journal. At the city council meeting, no one from the public spoke or asked questions. No council members did, either.

The original plan dates from July, 2007. Highlights of the changes from then to now include:

1. Changing from condominium ownership to rentals.

2. Property acquisition costs are now $3,000,000, up from $2,250,000 in the original plan. The city is reimbursing Real Development for these costs as part of the TIF. Probably a primary reason for this increase is that another building is being bought by the city for the developers.

3. The cost of the parking garage is now $6,300,000, up from $3,750,000 in the original plan. This again is paid for by the TIF.

As stated in a document titled “FIRST AMENDMENT CENTER CITY SOUTH REDEVELOPMENT DISTRICT FOR EXCHANGE PLACE PROJECT PLAN December 16, 2008” in Section 2: “The amount of Eligible Project Costs is hereby increased from Six Million Five Hundred Eighty Thousand Dollars $6,580,000.00) to Ten Million One Hundred Eighty Thousand Dollars ($10,180,000.00).” This represents an increase of 54.7% from the original plan.

At Wichita City Council, why are some doors open, and others closed?

Steve Compton, owner of the Eaton Steakhouse in downtown Wichita, spoke to the Wichita city council on the public agenda at its February 3, 2009 meeting.

(The public agenda is where anyone can speak about any topic for up to five minutes.)

Mr. Compton said he chose a bad time to start a business a year and a half ago. His business is just as important as others, he said, and he wants the city council to consider small business when making their plans as to which businesses to help. He said his business has 28 employees. He asked the city council for its support and consideration, without asking for anything specific.

Readers of the Voice For Liberty in Wichita know that I oppose subsidy to business. Therefore, I oppose Mr. Compton’s efforts. His request, however, illustrates the problems that arise when government chooses to subsidize some firms at the expense of others. This request is sort of the opposite case of the warning that Wichita Interim City Manager Ed Flentje issued to the council last summer regarding a loan interest subsidy made to the Warren Theater: “There are in this community much larger businesses with much larger employment who may see this opening as something that will open a door for those businesses to come and say, ‘You’ve done it before, you can do it for us.'”

Mr. Compton didn’t ask for a subsidy, but he must want something from the city. The problem is that the city — assuming it wants to — will have a hard time finding a basis on which to decline this request. That is, a basis that springs from any sense of equity, as it seems that Mr. Compton’s business doesn’t fall into any of the categories of economic development incentives Wichita has to offer.

The city dishes out economic favors at nearly every council meeting. For example, at today’s meeting the council is granting three Wichita companies a big favor, forgiving them from paying property tax on some of their property. These actions are being taken without any discussion except for the presentation made by Allen Bell, the city’s economic development director.

So why is the door open for some companies, but not others?

Ask What Questions About Downtown Wichita YMCA Deal?

Remarks to be delivered to the February 3, 2009 meeting of the Wichita city council.

When considering the sale of city-owned land, the city has an obligation to get the best deal possible for the actual owners of the land, which are the citizens of Wichita.

But it seems, according to the agenda report, that the city has already decided on a single buyer for this land, the YMCA. With only one buyer and a seller whose leader has stated that it is “seeking a partnership” with that buyer, citizens are entitled to wonder if their interests will be protected. Citizens should ask if these negotiations are going to be at arm’s length.

(A side question: What does a partnership with the YMCA mean? Is the city planning to do something else besides selling it the land?)

So how can Wichitans be sure that the city strikes a good bargain for its citizens?

Today’s Wichita Eagle editorial is titled “Ask questions about YMCA proposal.” The problem is that we don’t know what questions to ask. We citizens need some help with this.

Mr. Mayor, at your State of the City address last week you said: “This City Council wants to keep building public trust in government.” You also mentioned a desire for greater transparency. This is a great opportunity to start on that path. I can think of a few ways right now.

One way the city can help achieve greater transparency is to release the terms of the offers received last year.

A second way is to conduct the negotiations with the YMCA in the open. Invite news media and citizens to observe. Let citizens ask questions. Release draft agreements before they’re finalized. Televise this on channel 7. Since there is only one buyer, there is no need to keep negotiations secret. There’s no other buyer that could gain from the learning details, as there could be if there were multiple buyers.

Measures like these will let citizens and news media ask the right questions as the negotiations proceed. Otherwise, the deal will be struck, and then it’s too late for questions.

From Kevass Harding to Lavonta Williams

One of the unusual sightings on the campaign finance report filed last month by Lavonta Williams, current Wichita city council member and candidate for re-election, is two contributions totaling $1,000 from Kevass Harding and his wife. These contributions represent the maximum it was possible for two people to give at the time.

These contributions are unusual in that the Hardings don’t show up very often on the lists of contributors to local politicians. On May 20, 2008, Kevass Harding contributed $250 to Donald Betts, Jr. in his campaign for the U.S. House of Representatives. Then on November 24, 2008, Teketa Harding contributed $50 to Kansas House candidate Cheryl McFarthing.

So the Hardings do contribute a little bit now and then. But the $1,000 to council member Williams represents a new step forward for the Hardings.

I have a theory as to why the Hardings made these contributions, but it will have to remain just that, as none of the parties have answered direct questions about this contribution. All that we know for certain is that these contributions were made last June, right before Harding’s application for the Ken-Mar TIF district went before the Wichita city council, of which Lavonta Williams is a member, in July and August.

I’ve asked both parties to explain whether there was or was not a connection between the contributions and the application for the TIF district. Williams answered the question obliquely, not addressing the questions that Wichitans want the answer to (see Lavonta Williams Campaign Contributions Raise a Few Questions). Harding didn’t respond to email or telephone inquiries. But that’s not surprising, as last summer he wouldn’t return my telephone calls. That’s even though I am his constituent, as he is the at-large member of the Wichita school board.

So we’re left to wonder.

Lavonta Williams campaign contributions raise a few questions

See end of article for disclosure.

Analysis of the campaign finance report recently filed by Lavonta Williams, current Wichita city council member and candidate for re-election, revealed a few interesting insights about her campaign.

First: The campaign contributions are concentrated from one industry. Of the $16,550 in cash contributions raised by the Williams campaign and disclosed in this report, $10,500 (63%) came from sources that are real estate developers, or from people closely connected to them such as their spouses. These developers are often asking city hall for subsidy or favor.

I asked council member Williams a few questions by email, such as: Can you explain why this industry supports your candidacy so strongly? Do you think there is any linkage between your support for TIF districts and other subsidies that benefit many of these developers and their contributions? (Her answer is reported following.)

Second, this concentration of contributions by one industry may be even stronger than reported above. It appears that $1,050 in contributions are from 14 attorneys (or spouses) that work for one law firm, Hinkle Elkouri Law Firm LLC. This firm has among its clients several of the developers who contributed the 63% reported above. I asked council member Williams if there is any reason for the generosity of this one law firm.

Third, even non-downtown developers are contributing to the Williams campaign. Near the end of June, Kevass Harding and his wife contributed a total of $1,000, the maximum allowed by law, to the Williams campaign. This was right before Harding appeared before the city council in July and August as an applicant for TIF district financing. I asked council member Williams these questions: How did Harding come to make this contribution? How did he know that you were considering a run for office? Was there any connection between the contribution and your advocacy for his TIF district?

I received an email message from council member Williams in response to my questions. Here it is, in its entirety:

Mr. Weeks,

Throughout my 35+ years of service as an educator, neighborhood and community activist, I have met and worked with many people who have given back to this community and made a difference in the lives of Wichitans. Some of them are supporting my campaign, and I am grateful for that support as we continue to work together, in our various ways, to making Wichita a better place.

I think we can say that Ms. Williams chooses not to answer the questions I asked.

Fourth, there are some peculiar aspects of this campaign finance report regarding dates. The cover sheet states the report covers the time period April 1, 2008 through July 16, 2008. A check with the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission confirmed that the report should have covered through December 31, 2008, as did the reports for other candidates for city council.

That office told me they had checked with the Williams campaign, and that the campaign said there were no contributions from the middle of July to the end of December. It seems strange that there would be a flurry of contributions to the campaign in June and July, and then nothing — not even one contribution — for the remaining months of 2008.

A curious omission from the list of contributors is anyone connected to Real Development.

It won’t be long before another campaign finance report will be due. It will be interesting to see if council member Williams can broaden the base of her supporters.

Disclosure: I am a supporter of James Barfield, an opponent of council member Williams, and have provided volunteer service to his campaign.

Term Limits in Wichita

In Wichita, city council members and the mayor are limited to serving two four-year terms. Last February the Wichita Eagle reported that some council members were considering a measure to end term limits. The main reason for wanting to do away with term limits is the perception that time and experience are required in order to become an effective council member. But under term limits, the tenure of experienced council members is artificially cut short. The public, therefore, doesn’t get the benefit of these experienced council members.

At a recent Wichita Pachyderm Club meeting, council member Paul Gray spoke. I asked him about term limits — he has about two more years to serve before his limit expires — and he expressed opposition to term limits as he did last year.

“I think it’s an arbitrary barrier that puts more power in the hands of bureaucracy and staff than it does in elected representatives,” he said. He added there’s not enough support on the city council to pass a resolution that would then appear on a ballot that citizens would vote on.

Kansas Senator Kansas Senator Chris Steineger, Democrat from Kansas City, expressed similar concerns to me. He said it takes experience to become a good legislator. With high turnover in the Kansas legislature, he said we don’t make the best decisions that we could make.

Underlying these arguments is the assumption that we need experienced, effective legislators, county commission members, city council members, and school board members. If your goal is to expand the power and influence of government, maybe so. But if you seek to limit the power of government and tip the balance back towards individual liberty, experienced and powerful elected representatives are not what we need.

The argument that we need experienced elected officials to provide a counter to powerful staff members and bureaucrats can be eliminated by, well, eliminating powerful staff and bureaucrats. If we seek a limited government, we need to reduce the number and power of these. In the meantime, elected representatives should pass laws that give more power to them, rather than to staff and bureaucrats.

There is one argument against term limits that is persuasive to me. If we view voting as an act of speech, then term limits are a limitation on that speech. I asked a noted term limits opponent at the national level about this, and he’d never heard that argument before. So it’s novel, and perhaps I’m not thinking though this argument thoroughly.

I do know, however, that if the power and intrusiveness of government were limited, it wouldn’t matter as much who holds office.

For more information on term limits, see these resources:
U.S. Term Limits
Citizens for Term Limits
Real term Limits: Now More Than Ever
A Brief History of Term Limits

Walking Door-to-Door with Marcey — ummm — Lavonta?

Wichita city council member Lavonta Williams just launched the website that supports her campaign for re-election.

It’s a nice website, but it has a little mistake that gives us a clue as to who might be running Williams’ campaign.

Her “Get involved” page lists this as one of the ways you can help Williams: “Walking door-to-door with Marcey.”

Marcey? Who is this Marcey? How could someone make the mistake of using the name “Marcey” when it should be “Lavonta?”

I don’t know, but last year the campaign for Sedgwick County Commissioner of Marcey Gregory, mayor of Goddard, was managed by Wichita public relations personality Beth King. Could there be a connection?

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 bob.weeks@gmail.com.

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.