Monthly Archives: February 2007

State senator parties, politics

Club Patrone, near 21st and Woodlawn, got true VIP treatment when state Sen. Donald Betts, Jr. showed up on Friday to celebrate his 29th birthday.

Betts, in his suit and tie, was unafraid to hit the dance floor and remind people that he can still “party walk” with his Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity brothers by his side.

Then, on Saturday, Betts was back to business as the host of his second annual town hall meeting, which drew more than 150 people at WSU’s Hughes Metropolitan Complex. The meeting lasted more than three hours and gave community members a chance to meet with other black lawmakers such as Melody McCray-Miller, Oletha Faust-Goudeau, Kansas African American Affairs Commission director, Danielle Dempsey-Swopes and Roderick Bremby, with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, among others.

More money does not equal better grades, some say.

The American Legislative Exchange Council, a national organization for state legislators, ranked Kansas 22nd in their survey for spending less money per student than the national average.

According to the organization, which used information from the 2003-2004 school year, the average amount spent on each student is $9,000. Kansas spent $1,000 less than that but still performs well on the National Assessment of Educational Progress test, considered the nations report card and college entrance exams, ACT and SAT.

So far the argument holds water. On the national test, Kansas fourth graders ranked second in the nation for math and 13th in reading. Eighth graders second for math and eighth in reading. The scores for ACT and SAT have also increased.

But The Hall Monitor couldn’t help but point out that there is more to the argument than academic progress and money.

Education gurus say that students who are economically disadvantaged need more academic attention than other students and that it’s tougher to teach those students. As are students whose first language isn’t English and those with disabilities. Therefore you need more money to teach them.

But compared to other states, Kansas’ number of students who are economically disadvantaged, 38.5 percent students, is tiny. Other states like California and Texas, where a majority of the non-Kansas students are coming from have a higher percentage. It’s 47.9 percent in California and 46.7 percent in Texas.

The states that are in the organization’s top ten, most of them Midwest states, also have a small percentage of students who are economically disadvantaged. Massachusetts, ranked number one, has 28.3 percent economically disadvantage.Minnesota ranked number two has 27.2 percent and New Hampshire, number three, has 16.3 percent.

California is ranked 42 and Texas 36.

The allegation, the denial and the missing link

Carl Brewer, a city council member and candidate to unseat Mayor Carlos Mayans in this year’s election, claims the mayor apparently forged a paragraph into a Brewer campaign letter that calls on Democrats to run against another city council member.

It was a move to make council member Paul Gray, who is facing four challengers in the Feb. 27 primary, angry with Brewer, Brewer said.

But the allegation, like so many that have arisen in recent months, couldn’t be proven true or false in interviews Wednesday.

“When Mr. Brewer says something that is credible, I will answer that,” Mayans said.

Mayans said no such document exists to his knowledge and that there is no reason to address baseless allegations.

In a campaign interview on Wednesday with The Wichita Eagle’s publisher and editorial board, Brewer explained the sequence of events that led to his accusation against Mayans.

He said he recently asked three prominent local Democrats — Tom Docking, Randy Rathbun and Kelly Johnston — to help him raise money for his campaign.

The four men wrote a letter in which they asked 400 local Democrats to contribute to Brewer’s campaign. The letter, Brewer said, was written on his own letterhead, and signed by Docking, Rathbun, and Johnston.

Last week, Brewer said, he got a call from fellow city council member Paul Gray, “a man I consider to be a friend.” Brewer said Gray was upset, and demanded to know “why I was putting out a letter attacking him.”

“I told him I didn’t know what he was talking about. He said he had seen a letter, signed by those three men, and that the letter said that ‘we are looking for good Democrats to run against Paul Gray.’”

“I told Paul that we never wrote that, and that I had the original letter and could show it to him.”

“I asked Paul ‘Where did you get this?’ And Paul said he did not have the letter, but that someone had shown it to him (without giving it to him.)

“I asked Paul ‘who showed it to you?’

“Paul said ‘It was Carlos.’”

A copy of the letter supplied by Brewer’s campaign has no reference to Gray or any other council seats at all.The letter has Brewer’s campaign letterhead and has the standard “paid for by Carl Brewer for Mayor, Sheryl Wohlford, Treasurer” at the bottom.

Johnston, chairman of the Sedgwick County Democratic Party, confirmed that he had not written anything about Gray or anyone except Brewer. (Johnston is also loosely related to Brewer. The two mens’ wives are sisters and they live about 1/4 mile away from each other.)

Brewer said Gray asked him not to tell anyone about this story. But Brewer, at the meeting with the Eagle editorial board, decided to tell the story about the letter to explain why he thinks he’s a better choice for mayor than Mayans.

Brewer said this was an example of what he called Mayans’ “sometimes untruthful” way of dealing with people that Mayans doesn’t like.

Gray wouldn’t confirm or deny that the letter exists.

“I’m running my own race right now, which is a district seat,” he said. “I’m not running for mayor. What happens with those men and their campaigns is between them.”

Kansas: A model for government ethics?

If you think Kansas has its share of ethics controversies — or perhaps more than its share (Lawmakers chatting with state supreme court judges about pending school finance bills, using government address lists to distribute campaign fliers, etc), consider this: There’s a chance Kansas politicians just get caught more often because of its ethics system.

According to a new report by the United States Public Interest Research Group, Kansas is one of 12 states that is doing well. Kansas, and the other states PIRG rated well, has “outside oversight, meaningful conflict of interest rules, protection against arbitrary removal of commissioners, an open complaint process, full investigative authority and full disclosure of complaints filed and actions taken.”

Here’s their assessment: “The Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission is a nine member body. The Governor appoints two members; the Chief Justice of the state Supreme Court, Secretary of State, Attorney General, and the majority and minority party leaders of the state legislature also appoint one each. There is a five year ‘cooling off’ period before party officials, candidates and lobbyists may serve on the commission. Commissioners are appointed to two year terms.

“The commission may initiate an investigation based on an outside complaint or a complaint filed by commission staff. Anyone may file a complaint, and all hearings of the commission are open to the public. In 2006, the commission reviewed approximately 35 complaints and issued 15 fines.”

That’s better than most states, and “far ahead of Congress in establishing independent ethics enforcement for legislators,” according to the report.

On another Kansas ethics note, Rep. Todd Tiahrt was appointed recently to the congressional ethics commission.

Passive-aggressive procedure

As the city council reviews the legal lingo that makes sure their meetings are as orderly and fair as possible, they continue to dance around the big issues.

Well, maybe “dance around” isn’t fair. The council put it this way: the sticky issues are being put in a “parking lot.” And when they discussed the rules formally for the the second time on Tuesday, they started calling it “a garage.”

In their two or three hours of formal discussions, they’ve mostly covered less controversial revisions, like replacing the out-dated recall provisions that were trumped by state law years ago.

For example, who knew that they were actually working under the rules of a five-member commission? Jim Skelton knew, for one. He’s the one that asked for a revision months ago. But nothing happened until some council members fought the mayor over WSU football and then, in a matter of weeks, things like censure procedures and who can speak for the city came into question.

But those topics are in “the garage.”

Instead of these politically sensitive items, the city council has debated whether members should be able to submit explanations of why they voted how they did into the meeting minutes. Carlos Mayans supported that idea along with Paul Gray. Underneath the surface is the Wal-Mart zoning case at Oliver and Kellogg that, for one, was a difficult issue. Then the motion became so complicated even council members were asking each other if they understood what they were voting on. Mayans wanted to be clear he was voting alongside the District Advisory boards, the planning commission and the planning staff (all of whom favored the development).

In the end, both Gray and Mayans were asking that their votes be explained in the minutes. Gray, for example, said he had penned some comments, but, after the exhausting discussion, he decided to let the issue move on. He wanted to clerk to add them in, but, per rules, they couldn’t be added. Only things said in the meeting can. Sharon Fearey agrees, and she says if you’ve got something to say, you should say it while you’re on the broadcast meeting so everyone can see it. Mayans noted that legislators, state and federal, are allowed to explain themselves in writing after meetings.

After about 15 minutes of disagreement, the issue ended up — you’re starting to see the theme, right? — in the garage.

So, left in park are new censure procedures that would let council members denounce one another publicly (there’s already some vague procedures for that, which haven’t been used in recent memory, according to long-time city workers). The issue has strong ties to the much-publicized spat over reviving WSU football with a sliver of the university’s share of local tax money. In that case, Mayans wanted to present his (and WSU alums) plan to WSU’s president, Donald Beggs. Mayans never said he was speaking for the city, but when some saw his quotes in the newspaper and heard them on TV, they felt like Mayans (wearing a non-government Wichita polo shirt at the time) projected the issue as one backed by the entire council.

Tuesday, council members said they’ll back the censure issue out of the garage in March — maybe.

The council will probably also discuss audio recordings of executive sessions and when, if ever, council members can share details about what was said behind closed doors. Though unspoken, this concern appears to have strong ties to any number of leaks over the years where council members and/or city staff have told reporters the back story on business negotiations and other sensitive issues (like discussing the city managers salary or police and fire contract negotiations) that the city believes are exempt from open meetings under Kansas’ open meeting laws.

You’ve got campaign mail.

Wichita school board at-large candidate Mary Dean has been campaigning through the cyber space. She’s emailing her stance on such things as the minority achievement gap and the district’s suspension/expulsion policy.

Dean, a retired Boeing employee, is one of five candidates for the at-large seat. It’s the only seat where an incumbent, Kevass Harding, is running for re-election.

That said, she’s also running in a race where two candidates, Harding and tax-payer advocate Karl Peterjohn, have much more name recognition than she does.

As for why she is running, here’s a taste from her email:

I believe it is time for the School Board to remember that the Superintendent works for them not the other way around. And, finally the School Board should be reminded that they represent and answer to the citizens, taxpayers, and students of USD 259.

Read More »

To fill Martz’s seat, Council will ask DAB to step forward

The City Council will formally announce a vacancy in District 5 in their meeting Tuesday, but the tribute ceremony they had planned will wait because Bob Martz’s wife, Sandy, is requesting more time.

It takes about a month to fill a vacancy. So, instead of replacing Martz for the one or two meetings between now and the elections, the council is going to ask west Wichita District Advisory Board members to be more active in voicing their opinions on city business since they won’t have a representative on the dais.

(Martz died of an apparent heart attack in his home Jan. 18. The Eagle’s story is at this link.)

A flood of new maps for westsiders

Thousands of Wichita homeowners will have to consider flood insurance soon now that new FEMA flood maps have been validated. But it could be short lived.

In November, the city poured $600,000 into having a Kansas City consultant take an even closer look than the Army Corps of Engineers did.

The Council will discuss the new maps next week. For a peak, follow the “Read more” link to see the city’s news release on the maps.

New FEMA Flood Maps Could Affect Thousands of County Residents, Change Insurance Needs!

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has developed revised, detailed, flood hazard maps after conducting a multi-year project to re-examine flood zones throughout Sedgwick County. The new maps will be revealed at a 10:30 a.m. news conference Monday in the Wichita City Manager’s Office on the 13th Floor at City Hall, 455 N. Main.

Media are encouraged to attend the news conference, which will include Director of Planning John Schlegel who will unveil the new maps, discuss their significance and take questions.

“The maps reflect current flood risks and will replace maps that are up to 20 years old,” Schlegel said.

Flood hazard maps are important tools used in the effort to protect lives and properties. By showing flooding risks, the flood maps help residents and business owners make more informed decisions about protecting people and property. These maps also help community planners, local officials, engineers, builders and others determine where and how new structures and developments should be built.

The City of Wichita has approximately 1,400 properties that will be in the 100-year floodplain for the first time. Sedgwick County has approximately 12,850 properties in the 100-year floodplain for the first time. The unincorporated areas of Sedgwick County have approximately 337 properties in the 100-year floodplain for the first time.

A 100-year flood event means there is a 1% chance of flooding any given year. Over the life of a 30-year loan, statistics show that a home within the 100-year floodplain has three times greater risk of flooding than risk of fire; most homeowner insurance policies do not provide coverage for damage due to flooding.

If your property has a structure(s) that falls within the Special Flood Hazard Area (the 100-year floodplain) your property is at risk of flooding. Purchasing flood insurance, for both the structure and its contents, is highly recommended.

Non-partisan in name only

If you check out Sedgwick County’s election policies, city council elections are non-partisan races where candidates don’t have to duke it out for their party’s nomination or support.

But read through campaign finance reports or attend a few speaking engagements and it’s clear that some of the Ds and Rs are picking sides.

Carl Brewer, a democrat, for example, has several donations from county democratic leaders like Kelly Johnston. Democrats even note which candidates are Dems on their website. Brewer’s campaign has distributed letters from Johnston and former Lt. Governor Tom Docking and Randy Rathbun to local Democrats.

Mayor Carlos Mayans, a Republican, meanwhile, used the county Republicans’ weekly Pachyderm Club meeting last week to highlight his campaign message. Mayoral candidate Larry White also used the Pachyderm forum and next week District 5 candidate Paul Tobia will speak, followed the next week by Jeff Longwell.

In his unscripted speech, Mayans was quick to point out that many of his accomplishments have depended on Democratic support.

For example, he recently said that many of Kansas’ mayors are democrats, yet the League of Kansas Municipalities picked Mayans as their vice-president, which will put him in line to be president of the state’s organization for cities.

That gives him some legislative pull — on top of the access he already has. But, as someone pointed out at the Pachyderm Club, it doesn’t always work.

LMK is pushing this year for protection of eminent domain rights, which allow government to take properties for economic development, a right supported by the much-publicized Kelo decision.

Mayans noted to the room of republicans, most of whom oppose eminent domain for economic development, that he isn’t going to bat for that issue.

All told 14 of 26 — or 54 percent — of the city candidates are registered as republicans and eight are democrats. The rest either didn’t vote in the primary or updated their address in the past three months.

Here’s a breakdown of all the candidates and their registered political affiliation:

Candidate
Sue Schlapp – R
Gordon Bakken – L
Fred Marrs – R
Elizabeth Bishop – D
David Grebenik – D
Jason Wenke – Unaffiliated
Michael O’Donnell II – NA
Paul Gray – R
Leslie Osterman – D
Virgil Marsolf – R
David Glover Jr. – D
Bryan Frye – R
Jeff Longwell – R
Patrick Quaney – D
David Dennis – R
Charles Thompson – R
Lowell Stukey – D
Marty Marshall – R
Paul Tobia – R
Darrell Leffew – R
King David Davis – R
Carl Brewer – D
Carlos Mayans – R
Larry White – R
Randy Pace – NA
James Mendenhall – D

NAACP leadership: a case of deja vu?

s Kevin Myles the new Chet Lewis?

At least one Eagle reader seems to think so, saying in a posting on Thursday at Kansas.com: “The NAACP has finally been graced with an assertive and functional leader who is capable of attacking and dealing with issues at hand and as they present themselves. I don’t think we’ve seen this kind of leadership since Chet Lewis.”

For those who need a refresher course: Chet (Chester) Lewis was the NAACP attorney whose lawsuits filed during the 1950s and 1960s struck down segregation in public accommodations and forced the local school district to integrate its all-black elementary and junior high schools and approved. During Lewis’s branch presidency, the NAACP’s youth chapter conducted what is now thought to be the first youth-led lunch counter sit-in at Dockum Drug, which struck down segregation at all Rexall Drug stores in Kansas and Dockum locations in Wichita. He is the namesake of Lewis Elementary school and the newly-renamed Chester I. Lewis Reflection Square Park, which features a replica of the Dockum lunch counter near Broadway and Douglas.

The NAACP is currently working to outlaw the sell of drug paraphernalia in Kansas, among other initiatives involving workers’ rights and closing the academic achievement gap between minority and white students.