Monthly Archives: January 2008

Campaigns heat up in Kansas

The White HouseSuper Tuesday is approaching, and Democratic front runners are amplifying their messages and aiming them at Kansans. Sen. Barack Obama today began a TV ad campaign in Kansas featuring Gov. Kathleen Sebelius. In fact, nearly all of the audio and about a fourth of the visual are Sebelius, giving another powerful indication that Obama’s campaign believes Sebelius’ support could sway undecided voters or even change a few minds in the next five days. Sen. Hillary Clinton’s campaign also has staff rallying support, and it plans to give Kansans a chance to interact with her via satellite before Tuesday’s caucuses. And both campaigns have appointed people to respond to any campaign attacks or anything they perceive as misinformation or unfair.

Meanwhile, Sen. John McCain’s campaign announced the formation of Kansans for McCain and appointed Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback and Republican National Committeeman Stephen Cloud as co-chairs. The Republicans will likely become extremely active in Kansas if Tuesday’s elections don’t produce a clear front-runner. That’s because the Kansas GOP set their caucuses for Feb. 9 in hopes that the race would still be undecided and give Kansas a rare pivotal role in presidential politics. Check out Sunday’s Eagle for more about the caucuses, including a guide that will show you where you can participate.

The Daily Show quips on Sebelius speech

With attention often comes more attention. Such is the case for Gov. Kathleen Sebelius. She took the national stage Monday, delivering the Democratic response to President Bush’s State of the Union speech. Then, on Tuesday, she locked hands with Sen. Barack Obama at a high-energy rally in El Dorado. Tuesday night, her State of the Union response got more airtime on Comedy Central where Jon Stewart referred to her as a cougar (if you’re not hip on this term, the Urban Dictionary web site defines it as “An older woman who frequents clubs in order to score with a much younger man.” It’s also used to describe an attractive older woman.). But rather than analyze, we’ll let the clip speak for itself…

Giuliani, Obama leading in Kansas dollars

MoneyWhen it comes to campaign cash, you can always count on the Wichita Country Club — or at least those who live near it. As they have in past elections, residents in the 67206 zip code are pouring money into presidential campaigns at a rate rivaled only by the Shawnee Mission area and Olathe. But, as of late October when the latest finance reports came out, most of that money has been spent in vain on Sen. Sam Brownback, who withdrew from the race.

Of those remaining in the race, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani is getting the biggest boost from Kansans, according to Opensecrets.org, a site operated by The Center for Responsive Politics, a non-profit and non-partisan group. Here’s a look at the rest, as provided by Opensecrets.org:

  1. Sam Brownback -$382,477
  2. Rudolph W. Giuliani -$100,500
  3. Barack Obama -$95,004
  4. Mitt Romney -$83,100
  5. Hillary Clinton – $82,895
  6. John McCain – $82,490
  7. John Edwards – $42,950
  8. Fred Thompson – $40,501
  9. Ron Paul – $40,255
  10. Bill Richardson – $24,350
  11. Joseph R. Biden Jr. – $22,700
  12. Christopher J. Dod – $11,200
  13. Tom Tancredo – $4,760
  14. Mike Huckabee – $4,235
  15. Ralph Nader – $1,100
  16. Duncan Hunter – $1,000
  17. Dennis J. Kucinich – $200
  18. Alan L. Keyes – $200
  19. Susan Gail Ducey – $172
Total to All Candidates: $1,020,089

The figures above reflect fund-raising through Oct. 29, 2007. Candidates file their year-end reports Jan. 31. As it stands today, Kansans’ political donations are split roughly 70 percent to Republicans and 30 percent Democrats.

Headhunting a headhunter

ClassifiedWichita City Council members have yet to agree on how they will screen, interview and hire a new city manager. And they’re already working at a slower pace than council members were four years ago when they sought a replacement for Chris Cherches. Here’s a comparison:

In 2003, the city waited only five days after Cherches’ resignation to request proposals from headhunting firms. This time around, it took them 20 days.

In 2003, the city gave search firms just nine days to submit a proposal. This year it’s 44 days. (Proposals are due Jan. 31.)

The city may not be in such a hurry this time because it has Wichita State University professor Ed Flentje filling in. He’s widely viewed as a cautious and competent manager, and many of the city’s top officials finished their public administration masters degrees with Flentje’s final class. Flentje also is spearheading an “environmental assessment” of City Hall, which is supposed to identify any major problems and suggest ways to do things more efficiently.

It’s probably worth noting that in the city’s request for a search firm, it said “while cost of service will be evaluated and considered, more attention will be given to the search firm’s past experience and service in recruiting for City Managers and the amount of time needed to complete the recruitment.”

In 2004, the city hired Slavin Management Consultants for $21,000. It’s unclear what Wichita may pay this year. But late last year, the city of Austin, which is significantly larger than Wichita, hired Arcus Public for $25,000 to produce candidates for a city manager vacancy there.

Wichita City Council members will discuss the screening and interview process again before creating a complete hiring outline. Their next meeting is Feb. 5.

So what about that smoking ban?

CigaretteIt may be another two months before the City Council emerges with a compromised smoking ban proposal. That’s because City Council members Jeff Longwell and Lavonta Williams are still out and about, meeting with bar and restaurant owners and reviewing what other cities have done. Longwell said it may be 45 to 60 days before a draft ordinance is ready. Despite the council’s apparent gridlock on the issue, Longwell said council members want the same thing. “Everybody wants to eliminate secondhand smoke,” he said. The question, he said, is whether to do that with a mandate or by asking businesses for some voluntary reductions in secondhand smoke or some combination.

Meanwhile, advocates on all sides of the issue have flooded the 30-minute public agenda at council meetings, mostly with repetitious arguments. (People get up to five minutes to speak in front of the council — and whoever is watching on cable Channel 7.) State officials also are considering a statewide ban, although its prospects in the legislative session are uncertain.

The American Lung Association just put out its State of Tobacco Control report and gave Kansas an “F.”

Buying drugs from The Man

DrugsEver wonder how much the police might spend buying drugs in undercover stings this year? Try about $30,000. Or how about money spent on rent for undercover stings? Try about $33,000.

By its nature, undercover work is not usually part of the public discussion in government. But its budget — or part of it anyway — is public record. The city council will vote Tuesday on Wichita’s annual narcotic seizure fund. It’s a $186,000 pot (no pun) of money that was collected by state, federal and local law enforcement after judges ruled against drug dealers and seized drug money and other possessions.

According to the council agenda report, Wichita’s fund breaks down like this for 2008:

  • Undercover buy money – $30,000
  • Undercover vehicle maintenance/operations – $30,000 (Example of that came Friday.)
  • Undercover fuel – $42,504
  • Undercover fleet replacements – $25,000
  • Law enforcement training – $15,000
  • Undercover rent – $33,000
  • Annual audit – $3,000
  • Contingency/fund reserve – $7,812.25
  • Total – $186,316.25
In 2006, Wichita police conducted 58 “major narcotics investigations, resulting in 145 cases and 80 warrants” according to the latest city budget. Detective Bryan Martin and Rex, his Belgian Malinois dog, seized 25 pounds of cocaine and 53 pounds of marijuana. And police seized $266,200 and 12 vehicles associated with drug trafficking, the budget shows.

Is Old Town too trashy?

Dumpsters (not Wichita’s)If you stroll down Rock Island, Mead or Santa Fe streets in Old Town, you’ll probably see some Dumpsters overflowing with trash or oozing with grease. The city and some property owners who have complained think that’s a problem for downtown’s nightlife and condo district. In a recent survey of Old Town business and property owners, city officials prefaced their questions by saying they’re concerned that the waste could be a health hazard and that the runoff could create environmental problems.

“We are concerned about several things pertaining, but not limited to, the disposal of organic material that is a potential health hazard; storm water runoff from open and exposed trash and grease containers, and improper pressure washing practices that contribute to water contamination; overflow of trash receptacles and dumpster; dumpsters and grease carts that are safety hazards for those driving through the district; trash dumpsters that are in undesirable locations; damage to streets done by many heavy trucks moving throughout the area, and the aesthetics of the overall district,” the survey reads.
The survey results, however, showed that most of the 63 people who responded to the survey thought the cleanliness of Old Town was adequate (63 percent) or good (28 percent). That bodes well for Waste Connections and Waste Management, which haul most of the trash for the surveyed property owners. Old Town property owners will discuss cleanliness at a meeting Tuesday morning.
“Cleanliness levels affect the safety, well-being, and attraction of visitors, residents, and business owners in the district. We are going to address these concerns before it gets to an undesirable point,” the survey letter reads. “We hope to identify alternatives that reduce cost, improve cleanliness, enhance attractiveness and minimize problems related to waste collection. (The Old Town Association) is currently working on a landscape improvement plan for the area that may include trash containment areas.”
Another noteworthy finding in the survey: “18.57 percent of respondents have recycling,” the results read. “Out of those that do not, 43 percent would like to have it.”

Ed Flentje’s first week

Interim City Manager Ed FlentjeIn his first week, Interim City Manager Ed Flentje is setting a calm and cautious tone in City Hall. He’s asking city Finance Director Kelly Carpenter to communicate directly with him, setting hour-long meetings with city council members and pressing the City Council to agree on a process to hire a permanent city manager.

The cautious side of him emerged Tuesday when he suggested that things like $890,000 land acquisition isn’t the type of thing that should be on the consent agenda, which is where the city’s park land purchase was until Council member Jim Skelton pulled it for discussion.

Flentje’s calm side is pretty much omni-present, at least publicly. But it was perhaps most visible during a workshop in which Mayor Carl Brewer suggested that Skelton’s idea to have the council interview city manager candidates in an open forum would allow for too much “grandstanding.” Skelton took offense and said so with fire in his voice. Flentje, meanwhile, sat 10-feet away watching like a moderator and just moved the conversation along once the raised voices gave him a chance.  Flentje also raised a caution flag during that discussion, noting that the council is already a few weeks behind the schedule they used to hire a city manager almost four years ago.