A Wichita social media town hall

A City of Wichita town hall meeting ends in less than nine minutes, with a question pending and unanswered.

As part of its engagement with citizens, the City of Wichita holds social media town hall meetings. On June 20, 2107, there was a Facebook town hall on the topic of economic development featuring Assistant City Manager Scot Rigby. His charge is “developing and implementing a coordinated and comprehensive development services program and for developing, implementing and overseeing economic development, redevelopment and real estate programs and projects.” He’s worked for the city for two years. 1

Promoting the town hall. Click for larger.
There is not a customary duration for events like this, although other social media town halls have been promoted by the city as lasting 90 minutes. Surely citizens might expect any meeting like this to last at least 30 minutes, if not 60 or more.

But Wichita Assistant City Manager Scot Rigby’s town hall meeting on June 20 lasted eight minutes and 22 seconds.

(A screen capture of the event is available here, and the entire event as recorded on Facebook is here.)

It wasn’t for lack of questions that the meeting ended so quickly. One question I asked had to do with the city’s reporting on its economic development efforts. The City of Lawrence annually produces a comprehensive report, but Wichita does not. 2 Rigby answered this question online, which is the way these things are supposed to work.

An excerpt from the town hall. Click for larger.
Then I asked this question: “There has been a lot of investment, public and private, in downtown Wichita. What has been the trend in the number of business firms, employees, and payroll during that time?” That was six minutes and 50 seconds after the start of the meeting, according to Facebook. The meeting ended 92 seconds later with no answer to this question.

But I wanted the city to answer my question. After five weeks of multiple requests through both Facebook and email, I received a response from the city:

from: Bob Weeks
to: Scot Rigby

Hi, I’m still wondering why the social media town hall from June 20 was ended after less than nine minutes. There is still a pending question.

For your convenience, here is the link to the Facebook video:
“https://www.facebook.com/cityofwichita/videos/1450322791680383/”

Thank you,
Bob Weeks

Dear Mr. Weeks-

Scot Rigby asked that I follow up with your question since I was involved with coordination of the Social Media Town Hall events.

During the Social Media Town Hall events on June 15 and June 20 we presented content in a variety of formats on Facebook and Twitter. We used the Facebook Live format for one topic, but 30 second videos for 14 other topics (seven on each day). We publicized the Facebook Live topic the day before, and our intent was to respond to questions from that topic as well as during the event. We ended the Facebook Live event after responding to comments and feedback from June 15 and focused efforts on responding to other posts as well as Nextdoor, which we used for the first time during the Social Media Town Hall this year. Because of changes in technology, each year the Social Media Town Hall is a little different.

Sincerely-

Elizabeth

Elizabeth Goltry Wadle
Principal Budget Analyst
City of Wichita

I think I’ll characterize this as nonresponsive.

Besides this answer, the city also responded on Facebook on July 18, nearly a month after I posed the question. That response referred me to the 2016 State of Downtown Report from the Wichita Downtown Development Corporation. That is also (mostly) nonresponsive to my question.

Trends of business activity in downtown Wichita. Click for larger.
In a way, I can sympathize with Rigby not wanting to answer my question. Perhaps he doesn’t know the answer. But he might know — he should know — the answer, which is that since 2007 there are fewer business establishments, fewer people working downtown, and lower earnings generated in downtown Wichita. In all cases, the trend is lower. 3

Regarding the 2016 State of Downtown Report from the Wichita Downtown Development Corporation: That document claims there are 26,000 workers in downtown Wichita. That is a large mistake and greatly overstates the number of workers. 4

It’s curious that the city did not refer me to a 2017 edition of the State of Downtown Report. But that document does not exist. It’s common for these reports to be released in May, but this year’s report is not yet available.

The city takes pride in being responsive to citizens. Former Mayor Carl Brewer often spoke in favor of government transparency. For example, in his State of the City address for 2011, he listed as an important goal for the city this: “And we must provide transparency in all that we do.”

When the city received an award for transparency in 2013, a city news release quoted Wichita City Manager Robert Layton:

“The City Council has stressed the importance of transparency for this organization,” City Manager Robert Layton said. “We’re honored to receive a Sunny Award and we will continue to empower and engage citizens by providing information necessary to keep them informed on the actions their government is taking on their behalf.”

Shortly after his election, current Mayor Jeff Longwell penned a column in which he said, “First off, we want City Hall to be open and transparent to everyone in the community.”

Is a lack of staff at city hall the reason why I can’t get an answer to a question? I don’t think so. Two years ago the city expanded its staff by hiring a Strategic Communications Director. When the city announced the new position, it said: “The Strategic Communications Director is the City’s top communications position, charged with developing, managing, and evaluating innovative, strategic and proactive public communications plans that support the City’s mission, vision and goals.”

My experience with this social media town hall runs contrary to the city’s proclaimed goals, and this is not the only time I’ve had problems with the city regarding requests for information. 5


Notes

  1. City of Wichita. Assistant City Manager, Development Director Hired. Available at http://www.wichita.gov/News/Pages/2015-07-15a.aspx.
  2. Weeks, Bob. Wichita doesn’t have this. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/wichita-does-not-have-this/.
  3. Weeks, Bob. Downtown Wichita business trends. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/downtown-wichita-business-trends/.
  4. Weeks, Bob. Downtown Wichita jobs, sort of. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/downtown-wichita-jobs/.
  5. Weeks, Bob. During Sunshine Week, here are a few things Wichita could do. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/open-records/sunshine-week-wichita/.

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