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Bizarre and troubling Wichita city council meetings

Inside jokes or a public shaming: Either way, it isn’t good.

Those who watch meetings of the Wichita City Council may have become accustomed to Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell and his unusual sense of humor. But an episode from the September 6, 2016 meeting of the council goes beyond bad and unfunny humor, presenting an unfavorable image of our city to anyone watching the meeting. The target of the mayor’s humor — or derision — is Wichita city manager Robert Layton. A video excerpt of the meeting is available here, or at the end of this article.

The mayor’s treatment of the city manager seems cruel. But maybe not. Perhaps there are inside jokes in play here, humor that an outside observer like myself does not understand and can’t appreciate. But that’s the problem. If, in fact, the mayor is joking with the manager, these are inside jokes. Therefore, outsiders won’t understand the humor. This includes most citizens of Wichita and outsiders observing the meetings of the Wichita City Council. I think I can speak for everyone when I say this: We aren’t impressed. It isn’t funny.

If the mayor isn’t joking, then what’s left is public cruelty, and that of a boss (the mayor) to those who work for him (the manager). Former Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer did this too, and to more than one city manager.

If you need help interpreting the mayor’s intent, consider this: The agenda for this meeting, for this item, held the notation “RECOMMENDED ACTION: Defer this item until October 4, 2016” for this item. There was no need for the mayor’s needling of the manager.

Either way — inside jokes or a public scolding — episodes like this are not good for the city’s image.

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2 Comments

  1. Jason Karber September 8, 2016

    I certainly didn’t see that as a joke, but rather frustration with the fact that a city employee (who earns well north of 200k per year) wasn’t prepared at a meeting in a way that met his expectations. While calling him out that aggressively and publicly is a debatable leadership style, and it may be that his expectations were unreasonable, I don’t think it is so wildly off the rails that it reflects as poorly on the city as you seem to suggest. I have been called out in business meetings before, and can attest that it is no fun. It was an effective incentive to get clear about expectations and to get into gear if I am in the wrong, however.

    You have a lot of very informative posts on this blog, as well as good analysis and commentary. I suggest being careful not to lose the bigger message on smaller points like this. Of-course I know that there will be disagreements to the above premise, so just count them as my two cents.

  2. Fat Man September 9, 2016

    I usually agree with you Bob but I don’t think the Mayor’s behavior was out of line here. Seemed like some innocent ribbing of the City Manager. As the other poster has said I have been berated much worse than that before at business meetings.

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