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Downtown Wichita proposals not available to citizens

As part of Wichita’s downtown revitalization effort, city leaders decided to hire a planning firm. Four firms have been selected as finalists, and a committee is in the process of evaluating their proposals.

Whether or not you think this planning process is wise — and I happen to think it is not — it seems to be the will of the city and the special interest groups that will benefit from this type of central planning. So, it seems, we might as well make the best of it. This would include selecting a planning firm that seems most likely to respect property rights, specifically: (a) rejecting the use of eminent domain to seize property, (b) respecting existing zoning and land use rights, and (c) rejecting the use of TIF districts and other forms of public subsidy. These are the things that I learned are important from my trip to Anaheim’s Platinum Triangle, if a city wants to plan in a freedom-friendly way.

On September 22 and 23, the planning firms will be making presentations to the public. I thought it would be great for citizens to be able to read the proposals so that they would be able to ask intelligent questions at these presentations. Unfortunately, the city won’t let citizens read these proposals, and citizens will not be permitted to ask questions at the presentations.

The City of Wichita, according to Scott Knebel (Principal Planner, Advanced Plans Division, Wichita-Sedgwick County Metropolitan Area Planning Department), doesn’t consider the proposals to be open records under the Kansas Open Records Act. He wrote that in response to my informal request to view the proposal documents. I’ve now made a formal request to the city, and if the city denies access to the records, it will have to cite the provision in the Kansas Open Records Act on which it is relying.

Earlier I said that citizens can’t read these proposals, but that’s not entirely true. If you’re a member of a select committee, you can have them. Government shouldn’t be allowed to pick and choose which select citizens are allowed to see how their tax dollars are to be used, and all citizens have a right to know if government intends to take their property.

The fact that the city doesn’t want to let citizens — except those in a limited circle of downtown boosters — view these proposals and participate in the planning firm selection process is disturbing. It follows a pattern of stacking committees with people friendly to the desired goal, with no desire for dissent to be heard.

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7 Comments

  1. Cybex September 10, 2009

    In this particular case these documents are eligible for disclosure under KORA.

  2. CRAIG September 11, 2009

    I went to the Mayor’s steering committee meetings it was terrible. There were only 50 seats available, they were almost all filled with city employees, ( Mayor, Lavonta Williams, Allen Bell etc. etc.) or Downtown Development Corporation People. Since they were held during work hours few people at large were able to attend, and we had to stand. Any ideas that weren’t straight from the Mayor’s play book were all but scoffed at, including mine. The simple fact of the matter is that nobody in power has a true vision for this City. They have to take all these little perk trips to come up with ideas for how to fix it. And all we get are messes like Water Walk.

  3. Clark September 11, 2009

    Am wondering why we continue to hire or elect people who are not visionaries? Seems to me we could save a lot of money if visionary was in the job description.
    We continue to hire and elect people who turn around and hire more people to tell us what our vision should be.

  4. MikeB September 12, 2009

    Eminent domain in real life is a sobering experience because it amounts to legal theft under the badge of government.

    If eminent domain is involved in any redevelopment projects, do everything you can to make the “just compensation” agreements transparent. In other words, watchout for sweetheart lease deals.

    Speaking as someone who has fought seizure of property rights in Pennsylvania for two years with Houston-based Spectra Energy, backed by the power of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), we have turned over several rocks that (int this case) the energy industry would prefer to keep quiet.

    As one of your readers pointed out, the 5th amendment to the U.S. Constitution emphasizes, among other points, “… nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

    Folks who have actually fought eminent domain know that there is a lot of play in the “just” of “just compensation.” For example, the quiet secret of the energy industry is that “just compensation” for its lease agreements with the state government is very different from the same company’s “just compensation” for private property owners next door. It has nothing to do with the size of state lands and everything to do with industry politics.

    In our case, Spectra Energy cut a very different — and much better — lease deal with the PA Game Commission in Bedford County than the lease agreements it typically offers to private property owners, even if they are adjacent properties.

    Few are aware of this unequal treatment under law, but it will become a legal and political Achilles heel for the energy industry as more people become aware.

    We are property owners who are sharing what we have learned with fellow property owners in North America who may be dealing with energy companies and property rights issues. For those who have never been threatened with the seizure of their property rights, listen to property owners talk about the experience.

    You’ll find a landowner video and blog postings on our website:

  5. […] On today’s public agenda of the Wichita City Council, I have two things to discuss with the council. One is the city’ refusal to make public proposals submitted by planning firms wishing to be awarded a contract by the city. Background is here: Downtown Wichita proposals not available to citizens. […]

  6. […] of money. Furthermore, it wasn’t the most important matter I testified about that day. The secrecy surrounding the downtown redevelopment proposals is, I believe, a more important issue, as are things like TIF districts, special assessment […]

  7. […] I had through that it would be great if the public would be involved in this selection process. To that end I asked — first informally, then under the provisions of the Kansas Open Records Act — for copies of the proposals submitted by the finalist firms. My requests were denied. (See Downtown Wichita proposals not available to citizens) […]

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