In Wichita, spending semi-secret

The Wichita City Council authorized the spending of a lot of money without discussion.

At its March 27, 2018 meeting, the Wichita City Council passed a resolution authorizing the spending of funds for the River Vista development on the west bank of the Arkansas River in downtown.

The agenda packet for the meeting gave the details: “The overall project budget is $7,862,999 with STAR Bonds financing $4,750,000 of the costs and the City financing $1,050,000. The balance of the project costs will be assessed against the Improvement District.”

(STAR bonds are a mechanism whereby future sales tax revenue is routed to the project developer, rather than paying for the cost of state and Sedgwick County government. The “Improvement District” is the development itself, and the “City” is, of course, the taxpayers of Wichita.)

All this was approved by the city council at its meeting on July 21, 2015, under the item “Amendment to Amended and Restated Development Agreement – River Vista, L.L.C. (West Bank Apartments) and issuance of Sales Tax Special Obligation Revenue (STAR) Bonds (District VI).” It appeared on the March 27, 2018 agenda so that a resolution formalizing the arrangement could be passed.

Was the council’s action of public business and interest? The city council didn’t think so. The item was passed as part of the meeting’s consent agenda. This is a bundle of agenda items that are voted on in bulk, with one single vote, unless a council member requests an item be “pulled” for discussion and possibly a separate vote. If no council member asks to pull an item, there is no discussion.

No one asked to “pull” this agenda item for a discussion and vote.

Generally, items on consent agendas are not controversial, at least according to the city’s reasoning. I suppose that applies to this item, as the spending was approved in the past.

It might have been useful, however, to remind Wichitans of the taxpayer-supplied subsidy going to this project. Just so we’re reminded now and then of where our money is going.

But: The principals of the apartment project are frequent seekers of taxpayer subsidy, and likely plan to ask for more — much more — in the future. Some are also big funders of campaigns, in particular that of Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell. We call this cronyism.

So the consent agenda provides a handy place to pass laws without discussing them, hoping that no one will notice. Semi-secret.

As it turns out, the Wichita Business Journal noticed this item and wrote the article West bank Arkansas River upgrades on City Council agenda. The article starts with “Wichita’s City Council on Tuesday is scheduled to discuss …” But because of the consent agenda and no council member believing the spending deserved attention, that discussion never happened.

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