At Tuesday’s meeting of the Wichita City Council, I asked a question about council member Janet Miller and her travel and got a bigger response — from the mayor, the Wichita Eagle and other news media, and the public — than I expected. Some issues are still unresolved, however.
First, I was surprised that this matter was reported on so prominently by the Wichita Eagle, as it turned into a front page story. It involves, as I noted in my testimony to the Wichita City Council, a relatively small amount 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 financing, and other issues I’ve brought up before the council.
But those matters are more difficult to comprehend. Junkets are easy to understand.
Second: the behavior of council member Miller is an issue that citizens need to know about. The approval of this travel appeared on the August 18 city council agenda. I wrote to Miller on August 15, asking for the cost of the trip. Over the next several weeks, I left several telephone messages and sent at least one other email message. It was Van Williams, the city’s public information office, who promptly responded to my requests and supplied me with the figures.
Miller didn’t respond to my inquiries until I received an email message at 8:11 the morning of the council meeting. And you know what? There are some mitigating factors, such as the host organizations providing many meals and covering other expenses.
So why didn’t Miller respond to my requests earlier? I don’t live in her district, so maybe that’s a reason why. I endorsed her opponent earlier this year, so maybe that’s why.
A more cynical explanation that has been suggested to me is this: She wanted me to make my case in public, and then let Mayor Carl Brewer tell me all the ways I’m wrong — using information that I asked for, but was not given (at least not until right before the meeting). This strategy — if in fact it was used here — has been used against myself and other activists by a variety of governmental bodies.
Another observation is the bizarre analogy the mayor used, that one doesn’t get a divorce to save money just because a marriage is having trouble. Besides not making sense on any level, the mayor made these remarks as he was sitting next to Vice-Mayor Jim Skelton, who is in the process of divorce. As the mayor spoke about this, Skelton expressed astonishment. Eventually the mayor looked at Skelton and smiled. I made a motion towards my microphone, wanting to ask why he was looking at the vice-mayor. But as the mayor reminded me, he had given me my time to speak, and I could not speak again.
(I might remind the mayor that he is not a benevolent dictator who “gives” time to citizens to speak. City statute does that. He doesn’t have a choice or say in the matter.)
There are still some questions to be asked:
First, why is the city paying some expenses for Kelly Harper, president of the Wichita Sister Cities? The mayor forgot to address this.
Second, why isn’t the mayor — instead of Miller — attending the International Cities Conference?
Third: The mayor said that these conferences are important for the city’s economic development. If so, why are we sending the most junior council member, in office for just five months, on such an allegedly important mission?
Finally, the most important question I asked was not addressed at all by the mayor: why can’t citizens see the downtown redevelopment proposals? Vice-Mayor Skelton intervened on my behalf, but was not successful.
(In the video below, I didn’t include Vice-Mayor Skelton’s brief remarks due to YouTube’s ten minute length limitation.)